You see and hear a lot about what could be happening with Big XII expansion recently. The conference meetings in Phoenix last week saw a presentation by Navigate Research about how adding schools would affect current membership, and the Spring Meetings in Dallas from May 31st-June 3rd might see the league vote to expand.
And to that end, Memphis is creating 42-page glossy publications directly asking Texas for "the chance to connect via phone and discuss in more depth some of the great things going on in Memphis." Cincinnati is making videos about how much money they spend on sports, as well as buttering up Oklahoma's President via email.
But national writers like Dennis Dodd say there's "almost no buzz about USF at this point." Guys like Stuart Mandel don't even mention the Bulls in passing. It appears the Bulls aren't selling themselves behind the scenes either.
So with all of the talk of the musical chairs of conference expansion starting again, you might be asking what exactly is USF leadership doing here?
Nothing that you'll see. And that's by design.
Besides this letter from Mark Harlan to donors and season ticket holders last week, there's been absolutely zero public comment from the Bulls about any of this. But sources that we've talked to both inside USF Athletics and those close to Big XII current members say Fowler Avenue is placing more faith in being a trusted partner than in shilling themselves through the media.
It seems to be out of the same playbook used by USF during the 2002-03 round of conference realignment, which ended up with USF in the Big East. Lee Roy Selmon & Judy Genshaft kept things very close to the vest, worked their relationships with Presidents and other athletics personnel, and stayed below the radar through much of the process. It seems that's the game plan once again.
It's likely USF will look much more attractive to any conference a year from now. Attendance at football should be up significantly if early ticket sales are to be believed, and the team on the field should easily be the best of this decade. If the Big XII decides to delay expansion by a year, it seems USF's candidacy would be in a significantly stronger position.
USF has been honest when asked about their strengths and shortcomings by Big XII personnel which we detailed last year extensively, knowing that Navigate's due diligence will expose any flaws in their candidacy anyway. The major strengths include USF's market size (11th largest in the country), the quality of the facilities available (the lack of an on-campus stadium hasn't been any concern of Big XII), and a history of showing that they can galvanize a community when on the right side of the BCS/P5 wall. The sold out Raymond James Stadium's of 2007-09 prove there is a base of support for the Bulls, though it has been lying dormant through past administrative mismanagement and on-field failures until last season.
Opening a door to recruiting Florida athletes is also a major benefit, and adding a vacation destination location can help to engage donors as well as provide a better experience for traveling student-athletes.
Weaknesses include poor attendance in recent years, as well as insufficient financial support from boosters since the move to the AAC. The Bulls' contention is that an invitation back to the elite, along with changes in athletics leadership and development, will reawaken the community that sported Matt Grothe Grohawks while rising to #2 in the BCS standings in 2007.
Academically USF stands head and shoulders above all other candidates except UConn, with both schools hoping to be on a path to eventual AAU membership. However no one we've talked to thinks that academic prestige will be a major factor in any Big XII decision.
Despite the lack of buzz around the Bulls in the media, USF is in constant contact with Big XII administrators. Those that would be decision makers are quite aware of the case for Tampa, with USF being informed and aware about current discussions. We can also confirm that some other schools, particularly Memphis, haven't been as tactful during this process, and it has rubbed some from the conference the wrong way.
So don't fret when you see USF far down the lists of potential schools. To the tiny sliver of folks that would make any expansion decision, they are well aware of the sunshine, massive market, and pile of potential upon which the Bulls exist.