On Thursday afternoon, Mark Harlan and the USF athletic department are presenting their five-year strategic plan to USF's Board of Trustees. And hey, it looks like a copy of the plan is already online:
This is exactly the kind of document we hoped USF would share with the community. When USF was searching for a new athletic director in 2014, we talked about the need for Athletics to set a plan and give the community ways to chart its progress and help achieve its goals. This is essentially a 44-page road map for the department, spelled out clearly for everyone to see. We're pleased to see this come out.
Collin will be at the Board of Trustees meeting to ask some questions about parts of this plan. For now, here are some of the highlights as we see them.
USF Athletics Mission and Core Values (Page 6)
The University of South Florida System Athletic Department is committed to providing all student-athletes with opportunities to receive a world-class education, win championships, and develop into the leaders of tomorrow while embracing our partnerships within the Tampa Bay community.
Classroom, Community, Competition
ATHLETICS CORE VALUES
- Commitment: Conducting ourselves every day with unwavering dedication, devotion, and loyalty to the student-athletes, the University, and each other through leadership and a resolve to do the right thing always.
- Community: Enhancing and inspiring the lives of our diverse constituents while building relationships through engaged, collaborative, and inclusive service; all intended to create a sense of pride and to serve the people of the University, the Tampa Bay area, the State of Florida, and the world.
- Excellence: Relentlessly pursuing success in every endeavor, and providing the highest quality results in all areas, including competition, academics, compliance, business operations, and external affairs, utilizing best practices in a continuing and effective manner.
- Innovation: Engaging proactive and progressive creativity in all affairs, challenging ourselves to be forward thinking yet thoughtful risk-takers who challenge the status quo and who bring new and different cutting-edge ideas and methods which add value to our enterprise.
- Integrity: Conducting ourselves ethically, honestly, and respectfully, following the highest standards of conduct with high moral character, honor, respect and accountability, in a fair, consistent, and transparent way in all that we do.
USF Wants To Add A Female Sport (Page 12)
Under the Competitive Greatness goal, the plan lists "Add a female sport program that is sponsored by our Conference, and prevalent to the Tampa Bay region" as a strategy.
There are a few choices here. USF already has a lacrosse team at the club level, and with the squad size it would provide the most opportunities for female student-athletes. However, it's a very expensive sport to support, with all the sticks and pads and helmets and uniforms and flying 40 or 50 players to road games. The American also doesn't sponsor lacrosse. It's hard to see the university taking the plunge on this one financially.
An aquatic sport like swimming or diving seems the most likely option based on the metrics in the plan. USF used to have a swim team (it won the 1985 national championship and a slew of individual titles at the Division II level) and there's still a short-course pool in the Campus Recreation Center for training. There's plenty of nearby competition, lots of local swimmers, not that much equipment to deal with, and the American sponsors the sport. This appears to tick all the boxes.
Sand volleyball might be another option, although those teams are very small. Or how about a bowling team? That might be the least expensive sport to start, and there are several quality alleys in Tampa to practice on or even host competitions. (The AMF University Bowl is on 56th Street right next to campus, but word has it the place isn't in tip-top shape.) Although the American doesn't sponsor bowling, USF could ask conference mate Tulane how they like being in the Southland Bowling League, which provided four of the eight teams in last year's NCAA Bowling Championship. On the downside, the only school in Florida with a bowling team is Florida A&M.
USF Wants To Establish a Direct Service Organization (Page 17)
Under its goal of revenue growth and fiscal responsibility, USF states it wants to "establish a new business legal entity; USF Athletics will become a Direct Support Organization (DSO) of the USF System."
Here's our short reaction to this idea:
Why are we opposed? Let's explain what a DSO actually does.
As this Orlando Sentinel piece explains, DSOs are a way for public institutions to dodge pesky little things like Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and having to adhere to budget requirements. Right now in our state, only Florida and C.Florida operate their athletic departments as DSOs. Quoting the Sentinel:
DSOs are the university equivalent of CIA black ops or super PACs.
The net effect is secrecy.
We have the Legislature to thank for that.
State statutes specifically say nearly all records kept by DSOs are exempt from public records laws, including donors.
We're fine with exempting donors. If someone wants to give USF money quietly we should be appreciative, and as long as they aren't buying influence for something untoward that's cool.
But the only way we and other media had to keep USF Athletics accountable during The Dark Period is through FOIA requests. It's how we figured out USF gave Doug Woolard, Skip Holtz, and Stan Heath massive contract extensions all on the same day, something we'll be paying off for a long time. It's how we found out about NCAA investigations into the basketball program. It's often how we know anything.
Also, and this certainly applies for some of us: we specifically attended USF because it is a public institution. We believe in the inherent value of a public education, and that government entities should be operated openly and in the sunshine. USF Athletics is a public good, more than one-third of which is paid for by student fees. You shouldn't be able to take hundreds of dollars from each USF undergrad, and put it into what is basically a dark pool for sports.
Things are better at USF Athletics presently, and it looks like we're on the way up across the board. But that might not always be the case, and we might hire terrible administrators again someday. They need to be held accountable publicly.
USF Is Planning An OCS Feasibility Study (Page 19)
Under its goal of facility planning and construction, USF says it will "complete (a) feasibility study to strategically analyze the benefits, associated costs, and potential funding plan for an on-campus football stadium."
The only news here is that USF is formalizing their interest in an on-campus stadium. Unofficially, they've been interested for awhile and attention has been focused on the Museum of Science and Industry lot across Fowler Avenue from campus if it ever became available. But we're also hearing that there's a lot of obstacles there, mostly from the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners who will determine what to do with the land.
USF will also actively pursue other locations on campus. But there's a lot of problems to get from here to there. Mostly money. Which brings us to...
USF's Athletic Giving Needs A Lot Of Help (Page 31)
Throughout the appendix section of the plan, USF measures itself against "peer institutions" (all of which are in the American Athletic Conference) and "aspirant institutions" in Power 5 leagues that they would like to be able to compare themselves to. USF does well in most of these metrics, but they come up way short in philanthropy.
$2.5 million in donations for a school of USF's size and in a market as big as Tampa Bay is simply not good enough. As long as the school is stuck in the American, other revenue streams will be limited, and there's not much more money the school can take off the student body. Fundraising must improve dramatically to keep USF Athletics afloat. This is the challenge to newly-hired Deputy Athletic Director for External Operations Scott Kull.