The most important thing I ever did at USF I did during my first couple months on the job. I helped to write the proposal Lee Roy Selmon, Judy Genshaft, and Michael Rierson used at the now-famous airport meeting in Newark regarding USF joining the BIG EAST. At the time, I knew how epic it was, and I knew it would fundamentally change the course of the institution forever. I was making $8 an hour, but I was writing the most important document possibly in the history of the institution, and certainly the one with the most impact terms of athletics. No pressure, kid.
That was seven years ago, and I still have the proposal. So in the midst of potential conference upheaval, let's look back at what USF presented to the BIG EAST on that famous day in Newark that helped us to gain admittance to the BCS.
"Since its inception less than 50 years ago, the University of South Florida has traveled a remarkable path. Today, USF is a nationally respected research institution with programs of extraordinary breadth and scope. We at USF have a deep commitment to teaching, a student body that is growing in numbers and quality and a solid national and international presence in research, scholarship and creative works. Our strong emphasis on urban issues and programs is designed to meet the challenges and opportunities of local, national, and international communities. USF is ranked as one of the nation’s major public research universities."
We of course led with the academic side of things. University presidents tend to focus on that more than how good your offensive line is. Academically the beloved alma mater continues to improve each day. The quality of research we turn out, specifically in areas of technology and medicine (which is what most academics use to gauge the quality of an institution) continues to improve and is outstanding for a school so young.
"The University of South Florida is ranked as one of the top 100 public research universities and as Doctoral/Research University-Extensive by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching."
That's awesome, and we're now a Research I school; but we're not AAU. No, not the creepy basketball coaches in sweatsuits yelling at 11-year-olds, but the American Association of Universities, the premiere coalition of academic institutions in North America. There are 60 members in the USA, including all the current Big 10 schools. From the BIG EAST, members are Notre Dame, Rutgers, Pitt, and Syracuse. It is most likely the goal of Judy Genshaft to eventually have USF join as a member, but that may take years if not decades. As far as we've come, there are still hurdles to climb.
Growing, Competitive Athletic Programs:
"In the eight-year history of Conference USA, USF leads the pack with the most post-season appearances, at 43. USF ranked second in the conference in average Sears Cup standings over the conferences first seven years - an even more impressive feat considering it was accomplished without bowl eligibility."
Yup, we ran Conference USA on the all-sports level. Nine different sports won 29 conference titles (women's golf the most with five), and between baseball, men's and women's tennis, men's soccer, and volleyball, we were consistently in the NCAA's in multiple sports every year. With the exception of men's soccer, that hasn't been the case since we joined the BIG EAST. If we ran these same numbers again, they wouldn't be as impressive. That's probably for two reasons; one, 16 teams in the BIG EAST makes conference titles that much harder to come by, and obviously competing with better teams night in and night out in a much tougher league. With the exception of baseball, volleyball, and possibly golf, the BIG EAST is simply more competitive across all sports than C-USA in its heyday.
There's also a great pic of Michelle Collier, Will McDonald, Ryan Hearn, Aiya Shepherd, and Lee Roy Selmon staring up at a camera on this page... one of my favorite USF pics ever.
"USF Football is widely considered the most successful start-up program in the past 50 years. Rising from a non-existence in 1995 to a top-35 1-A program in 2003, the Bulls are turning heads nationally."
All true, and all very impressive at the time. But we've been in the Big East for five football seasons now, and have a 3-2 record in five rather run-of-the-mill bowl games. Yes, we were #2 in the BCS for a couple weeks there, but then folded on the big stage, and haven't come close to that since. The Florida State and Auburn scalps, as well as a couple biggies against West Virginia, are probably the calling card of the program nationally. I live in Vegas and have had more than one person out here seeing me wearing USF stuff say "I won a lot of money on you guys when you beat (Auburn, WVU, FSU)." That's the thing that we're most known for... winning big games that we're not supposed to win. This seems to cover up the fact that so far, we haven't been able to consistently beat the teams in the league we're supposed to beat that aren't named Syracuse, especially on the road. Let's hope Skip starts to turn that around.
"The Bulls' travels through three difference conferences presented progressively challenging levels of competition and opportunities to take USF men's basketball to new levels of accomplishment. From the Sun Belt and Metro, to Conference USA, USF has continued to elevate its recruiting and competitiveness on a national stage."
Greg Auman calls that "polishing the turd," and in this case I can remember saying to my boss Vicki, "How in the hell am I supposed to make this sound good?" It's been seven years, and we all know how men's basketball has done since. The reality is we're a member of the toughest basketball league out there, and we don't have the facilities, history, or money to win consistently. Well, now we're building a top-notch practice facility, we get older with a larger and more enthusiastic alumni and fan base every day, and the cash is starting to come as well. There IS hope that we can be a winner in basketball, but it's simply going to take time.
The next pages are a description of each of our teams and head coaches. A few interesting quotes:
"I will do everything I can to build a program without illusions, without cutting corners, doing things the right way and bringing in coaches with character." - Jim Leavitt
On Robert McCullum: "I think it's a great hire by USF," said Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson. "Robert exhibits an exceptional maturity level. Not only is he a bright coach, but also he represents what's right in this profession. He does it with integrity and he does it with class. He possesses a great work ethic and he does what's best for young people."
I completely agree and really liked RMC, but presented just because it's funny to see Kelvin Sampson talk about integrity.
Tampa Bay: A Choice Destination:
Fill in the Chamber of Commerce quotes about location, market size (12th nationally), accessibility, huge alumni base, and everything else we already know about USF here. All of this still holds true, and makes us a prime choice for any expanding conference looking to, say, I don't know, hold a local cable operator hostage to air a (Fill In League Name here) Conference Network.
So what to make of all this? Seven years later, we've still got all the potential in the world, and we have fulfilled some of it. We're still a great choice for any league that's willing to let us grow and continue to come into our own. And we WILL get there eventually. We've climbed some mountains, but the ones that we all know are within are reach (BCS games, NCAA basketball bids, College World Series appearances, College Cups, etc) often still feel like a mirage in the distance. Since the proposal was written, the closest we've gotten to any of it was sent astray by the play we named this blog after, a bases-loaded screamer down the line by the softball team in Game 1 of the 2006 NCAA Super Regionals that turned into a double play, and a Wake Forest men's soccer team that was just ungodly good in the 2008 NCAA Quarterfinals.
So if I'm the ACC or some other soon-to-be-created mega conference, I'm taking a long look at USF, because so much of what we offer makes sense for their long-term mission in a changing collegiate sports landscape. We're still so young that sometimes I think we forget that a generation from now we should be a national power in college athletics.
But it would be an easier case to make if we were further along that journey now.