How long is that going to take? Doug Woolard's been saying it ever since he took the athletic director job seven years ago. And as alumni come back to Tampa for homecoming this Saturday, they're going to find an athletic department that is basically in crisis.
You know what they were hoping for in the corner offices. They were hoping the football team would have a big season, play in a big bowl game, sell a lot of tickets, and get USF tons of positive national attention. That way they could easily brush off the long list of things that are wrong with USF Athletics, and just point at football and say, "We got this right, so the rest of it isn't really that important."
Well, that's probably not going to happen now (and by the way, that's pretty unfair to Skip to put that burden on his shoulders). Even worse, it's not happened so many years in a row that instead of galvanizing the fan base, it's made them resentful and cynical. Here are some of the kinder and relatively more rational comments people made on Facebook when USF Athletics decided to post Saturday's final score on their wall:
"Just like clockwork, every year; 4-0 or 5-0 ranked then lose lose lose"
"Despicabull loss today. Tired of spending time & money supporting the team year after year, only to be disappointed again & again."
"Two f-ing weeks to prepare for a bad UCONN team and we can't even find the answer. What a disappointing year."
"I thought we would be out of place if the Big East collapsed and put us into the C-USA, but I guess it would be a better place for our team to compete in"
"Really no reason to have season tickets anyway.... First 3 games are garbage and u can get a $10 ticket for all 3.... Free ticket each year for the 4th game from a bank promo.... $50 for the last three...."
Now instead of ignoring the list of problems, football can be added to it. And it's quite a list.
-- There is only one top-quality program out of the entire collection, and that's men's soccer. Women's golf and softball are above average, and the latter should move up into the top-quality category again before too long. Everything else is either disappointing, mediocre, or just downright bad. Some are disappointing AND bad, like baseball.
-- As noted above, why would anyone buy season tickets to one of the revenue sports when you're just going to turn around and offer all kinds of cheap tickets to the games people want to see? Your most valuable properties have been seriously devalued, and no one even wants to see the basketball team except fans of other schools when they come to town.
We're also hearing rumors of another Groupon dump for tickets. Great idea! This deal will accomplish all of the following:
- Devalue the hell out of your product.
- Take 25 cents on the dollar out of its retail worth, because Groupon charges a 50% commission. That means If you buy a $100 gift certificate for $50, the provider only receives $25 cash in the end for $100 worth of goods or services.
- Get exactly $0 in ancillary revenue because of our lease arrangement with the TSA where we only get revenue on 3,000 parking spots (already sold to season ticket holders) and absolutely nothing on concessions unless we somehow sell more than $2 million of them during a game.
- See another post on this site mocking the whole enterprise when Groupon writes something bizarre and goofy about your games.
- Oh, and piss off everyone that paid full price before the season started.
Brilliant!! Whomever thinks this is genius, give yourself another bonus.
-- Speaking of basketball, they have no place to play this season, and how are we seven months into the Sun Dome renovation and we still haven't seen any sort of final plans yet?
Do you mean to tell me you still don't know what the inside of the building is going to look like? You've wasted how much time on this already? Do you even have enough money to redo the thing? How much longer is that building going to be unusable? Why is no one just reaming Bill McGillis on a regular basis about the job that's being done with this entire project? Is this going to take so long that we have to make the basketball teams play part of ANOTHER season in other facilities and stick the volleyball team in an intramural gym again? It's like buying an old house, tearing it down to build a new one, and then leaving a vacant lot sitting there for months on end while you try to scrimp and cut corners and haggle over what the new house is going to look like... all while acting like nothing is wrong.
-- Our marketing is tone deaf. After last season's awful home football schedule, which there really wasn't much that could be done about, you have Miami and West Virginia and Florida A&M and Louisville all visiting Tampa this year. All four schools have strong local name recognition, or fans that travel well, or both. It's a great marketing opportunity if you find the right pitch. So how does USF decide to capitalize on this opportunity? By deciding this is the year they want to make sure everyone knows the words to the damn fight song. They built this whole USFFightSong.com Web site and drove all of their marketing efforts through that. The Web site has a link to the Ticketmaster site for season tickets, but it doesn't say who or when the team is playing. When I was in Tampa last month, I saw a billboard right along I-275 in downtown Tampa that, if I'm remembering correctly, didn't say ANYTHING about buying tickets! It just said,"USFFightSong.com, Join In And Win."
(By the way, the prizes are things like having your fight song video played on the Jumbotron before the game, or getting field access before a game if you're a season ticket holder. I'm sure it's not an accident that all of the prizes cost USF basically nothing.)
Then when you actually go to the Web site, the Ticketmaster links don't work, and there's no information about how much season tickets in the donor sections cost. You get directed to MyBullsClub, which then requires three or four more clicks and a lot of guessing just to find the map of Raymond James Stadium. Then when you try and click on the picture to enlarge it and see what the donor levels and prices are because it's too blurry to read, it doesn't enlarge. It's like we're actively making it as hard as possible for people to buy tickets. And if you were going to run a campaign like this, you should have done it last year, when the home schedule was atrocious and the team had no expectations. People will buy tickets to watch you play Miami because it's Miami. They did it two years ago and they'll do it again this year. Just tell them when and how much and how to get them.
Now, this is important here. We don't want to pick on the grunts that are actually doing the work every day putting things like USFFightSong.com together. They're trying to make chicken salad out of chicken feathers, because they're overworked, understaffed, underbudgeted, and underappreciated. There are plenty of people that work like crazy every day, doing the best they absolutely can, all because of a love of all things Bull. But you have to give people the time, talent, resources, and ability to successfully complete a project. And those projects should fit into a larger mission and vision for what the athletic department should be. What is the vision of USF Athletics, other than what Doug keeps saying over and over again?
-- We can't get into too many details here because the college sports industry is so driven by playing nice and not making enemies. But USF Athletics has lost a LOT of good people the last couple of years by being cheap and just plain mean to them. People are leaving USF for much smaller programs and getting better compensation. Some are just being dumped on the side of the road through no fault of their own. There are still good ideas coming out of the building, but you just can't keep replacing people at lower and lower wages and expect the quality to stay up. That's also bred a reputation that keeps other good people from wanting to sign on to work under current management.
(True story: This summer there was a job opening in USF athletics for basically a beat writer, which is now being handled nicely by Tom Zebold. The job description was not too far from what I do for a living now, and obviously I have a passion for writing about USF, telling our story, and hopefully fitting it into an ongoing narrative. Toro was begging me to apply for this job. Actually, not so much begging as trying to force me to apply, because having worked there, he was sure I would be able to handle it. I'm not dissatisfied with my current job, and who knows if I would have had a chance once they figured out who I was, but it sounded like a great opportunity. Still, I wouldn't apply, for one simple reason: My boss's boss would have been Bill McGillis.)
The average fan may not have much visibility into this problem. But if you've ever wondered why there are dead links on the Web site, or factual errors, or you can't get answers to questions that were always taken care of before, or things don't seem as organized or familiar or friendly as they used to be... well, this is a big reason why. In just a few short years, the work atmosphere has gone from at least tolerable to absolutely toxic. Meanwhile, the payroll keeps flowing up to the top, and God knows how much money is spent on ideas like USFFightSong.com.
-- Toro will cover this in more detail, but it appears we're not at all interested in fixing the Title IX issues that were uncovered last spring.
-- None of this even takes the ongoing Big East apocalypse into account. You could easily have all these problems layered on top of the misery and financial ruin that would result from being thrown back into the mid-major quagmire for who knows how long.
Who knows? Maybe in a few years we'll be the best athletic department in Conference USA... which we were definitely in the running for under previous management.