I was at all three NCAA games this March, the first ones USF played in two decades. For those of us that are hoops junkies first, it was akin to seeing The Resurrection from the good seats, and I wouldn't trade that week for any other I've had as a USF fan. It was so incredible I even enjoyed being in Ohio for 24 hours. There is a core of us that care about basketball first for which being there was like a religious experience. All the years of hell being a USF basketball fan was extinguished in one fell swoop. It was magical and amazing and incredible and I loved being a part of it.
But here's the problem.
The USF section had PLENTY of good seats available in both Dayton and Nashville. In doing a season ticket check at the remodeled Sun Dome, you can basically sit anywhere you want that's not in the lower bowl. And keep in mind that lower bowl was sold out in the old version before the remodel, but was always full of empty seats. Just because you build it doesn't necessarily mean they'll come in Tampa, which is a sports market that's quite crowded already considering the size of our population and the average income.
And then there was the disaster that was HoopLa, the USF version of Midnight Madness. Despite paying $15,000 for a rapper named Roscoe Dash to headline, there were at most several hundred people in the building by the time he performed. By all accounts it was a criminal waste of money and a pretty awkward evening for those that did attend, with campus stakeholders pointing fingers in all directions as to why it failed.
So friends, if you want a good basketball program, get your asses to the Sun Dome this season. This team has earned your support, and they deserve a crowd worthy of a Big East team coming off a nice NCAA run. They might not play the most exciting style but they do play hard and with tremendous effort every night, and that shouldn't change with most of the core returning.
We bag on USF Athletics a bunch around here when they deserve it, but this basketball program is a point of light around which the community needs to rally if they want sustained success. The new Sun Dome and the Muma Facility are only one part of the equation for potential recruits; they also want to play in front of fans. And a brand new facility that's ¾ empty most nights isn't how you entice the next generation to play in green and gold.
The term "sleeping giant" has been kicked around about USF Basketball my entire adult life. All three of our most recent coaches used it at their introductory press conference (even though Robert McCullum went with "pregnant with possibilities," he basically said the same thing). Well if that sleeping giant doesn't awaken after a season like the last one, it's the Rip Van Winkle of giants.
It's a make or break year for USF Basketball, but not as much on the court as in the stands. Does the university community and Tampa Bay want to see high level, competitive college basketball? Because if they don't show up this year, when exactly do they plan on coming? Remember in the pre-football days sellouts at the Sun Dome weren't uncommon, so this has been done before. And the final home game of last year against West Virginia, despite being played downtown at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, was as good a college hoops atmosphere as I've seen since the Greenbergopolis days over a decade ago. It has been done before, and it's been done recently. It IS possible.
Stan Heath was given a 5-year contract extension after last season. The Bulls return most of their core (more on the actual basketball side in Part II), and point guard Anthony Collins was named Preseason Second Team All-Big East. There's a brand new building that's got the potential to be a very loud and intimidating home court. The Bulls as a team were picked to finish eighth in the preseason conference coaches poll, which is normally enough to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance. Therefore the onus is now on the community to show the support necessary to make continued investment in men's basketball a worthwhile endeavor. Season tickets start at $99, folks. You can probably scalp most single games in the parking lot for a ten-spot, and very likely receive change.
There are no more excuses, USF fans. Put up or shut up.