Today I am here to make the case for the University of South Florida and why they should be included in phase two of Big 12 expansion. The possible expansion will likely come after the Pac 12 television deal gets done which should be coming in the matter of weeks or before the years end.
I feel that the addition of the USF to the Big 12 will pay off for the conference and the institution not just in the short term but is the best long-term investment commissioner Bob Bowlsby could make. I know many reports have Boise State set for as an almost lock and AAC member Memphis considered a favorite but not a sure thing.
There are a number of media reports that have USF and SMU being added to the Big 12 in a third wave of expansion which really depends on adding teams for the benefit of new TV/streaming media partners. That is far from a sure thing as the 2025 deadline for Texas and Oklahoma to be gone to the SEC.
I would love to see USF join their rivals at Central Florida in the new Big 12 it makes too much sense not to have the Bulls in the conference.
Before I give my 12 reasons why USF belongs in the Big 12 let’s take a moment to see how we got to another round of realignment. It all started when both Oklahoma and Texas informed the Big 12 Conference that they would be leaving to join the SEC sometime before the start of the 2025 season.
The Big 12 moved to replace Oklahoma, and Texas with three American Athletic Conference teams and BYU an independent. Central Florida, Cincinnati, Houston left the AAC to join the Power 5 conference and all the benefits that goes with being part of a league with such important status.
So now USF finds themselves in the new AAC that hard working commissioner Mike Aresco crafted by adding Florida Atlantic, UAB, Rice, UTSA, Charlotte, and North Texas to join with existing members, East Carolina, Memphis, Navy, SMU, Temple, Tulsa and Tulane. This is another “long term,” rebuild that is something I give the always-creative Aresco credit for but USF needs to be moving up.
So here is as we say in the legal business my “Theory of the Case,” the dozen reasons why USF needs to be one of the next team added in phase two part of Big 12 expansion.
1. A commitment to athletics and academics – At present USF is in the final stages of hiring a new president and the search committee is looking for someone not only capable of keeping the academics high but also understanding the all important bond with the athletic department.
In 2018 USF introduced Michael Kelly as their new athletic director and he returned to the Bulls after he served as the first CEO of the College Football Playoff group. The addition of Kelly brought plenty of praise from all over the college sports world including every Power 5 commissioner.
Bob Bowlsby, Commissioner of the Big 12 Conference had some nice things to say about the hire. “Michael Kelly is an inspired choice to lead USF Athletics. Michael has done an extraordinary job for the College Football Playoff and he will bring the same vision, energy and integrity to USF.”
Kelly previously served as associate athletic director for external affairs at USF under former AD Lee Roy Selmon from 2001 to ’02 and helped the football program transition to the FBS level.
Kelly spearheaded the Super Bowl host committee for Tampa Bay (Super Bowl XXXV) and he was executive director for the 1999 men’s basketball Final Four organizing committee, held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. When he was with the CFP, he oversaw the national championship game played in Tampa on January 2017, when Clemson beat Alabama.
2. Yes USF has had some football issues as of late but it is not for lack of going after the best person for the job. When Willie Targgart left for the Oregon job after leading the Bulls to a 10-2 record and back-to-back bowl games the search was swift and focused.
USF hired Charlie Strong who was let go by the Texas but who had a stellar record at Louisville and also as the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida under Urban Meyer. Strong seen as one of the top recruiters of talent in the state of Florida but despite his hard work the results on the field just were not there in the end.
The hire of Strong was under the former athletic director Mark Harlan and while there was every reason to believe it was the right thing to do sometimes things don’t workout.
Kelly made his first hire and that was former Clemson offensive coordinator and USF grad Jeff Scott. He put together an outstanding young coaching staff led by Charlie Weis, Jr. who served as Lane Kiffin’s offensive coordinator at FAU and handles the offense for USF. Glenn Spencer, was named defensive coordinator and he like Weiss came from FAU but he knows the Big 12 well having served in the same roll at Oklahoma State for seven years from 2011-17.
Scott has a young team that has had little success thus far but is also one of the youngest teams in the AAC. But Scott’s ability to recruit and work the transfer portal should bode well for the young Bulls going forward.
3. The Bulls future schedule over the next five was ranked the toughest in the AAC by the media. In 2022, they face BYU, the University of Florida and Louisville. 2023 Alabama comes to Tampa while the Bulls head west to face BYU, 2024 they go to Alabama, while hosting Louisville along with NC State, in 2025 Boise State heads to Tampa while the Bulls have road games in the state against the Gators and the Hurricanes and then in 2026 they make another trip to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama.
4. An on campus stadium is on the books while at the University of South Florida’s groundbreaking on a $22-million indoor football practice facility, trustee Chair Will Weatherford made the announcement. “I’m here to tell you we are going to do it,” Weatherford said.
5. At present USF plays at Raymond James Stadium just 12 miles from campus and the home to the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ranked as one of the best outdoor faculties in the NFL.
It should be noted that successful programs at the University of Miami play at Hard Rock Stadium, UCLA play at the Rose Bowl and the University of Pittsburgh play at Heinz Field so playing at place that has hosted three Super Bowls, a College Football Championship Game, as well as the Outback Bowl and a number of major international soccer events is not a bad place to host your games.
It is not a bad place to hold a Big 12 Championship Game and trust me the Tampa bay area could find a sponsor for the event. It is what the Tampa Sports Authority does as well as any other group in the country.
6. USF has top notch on campus faculties including the Yuengling Center with a capacity of 11, 000 fans it was built to the exact it specifications and seating capacity as the University of Florida O’Connell Center. They also boast top notch baseball and softball stadiums as part of their on campus locations.
7. USF has hired Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management to handle advancing the brand of Bulls sports starting with all of their multimedia rights in a ten-year deal. Jeffrey Vinik is the billionaire owner of the back-to-back Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the gang that runs Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa. The downtown arena might just be a great place to host a Big 12 Men’s and or Women’s basketball tournament.
As part of their AAC deal with ESPN and ESPN + USF has the ability to broadcast any event from campus via the American Athletic Conference Digital Network. That means they have the ability to produce thousands of hours of content with very little help from the network which makes it simple for the Big 12 television and streaming partners to produce programming from the USF campus with great ease.
8. We have heard a great deal about wealthy alums ready to open their wallets to get their favorite schools into the Big 12. I would say to that USF has the support of a number of wealthy donors of that they can tap into plus they have strong support of some of the top business leaders in the Tampa Bay region.
The Bucs ownership group led by the Glazer Family who also own Manchester United are supporters of USF athletics, as we said before, is Jeff Vinik who not only owns the Lightning but has been a major player in the redevelopment of the city of Tampa along with his partner Bill Gates of Microsoft fame.
The Outback Bowl played annually on New Years day now has tie in’s with the SEC and the Big Ten. Once the contract expires it would be very easy for a couple of alums that founded the Tampa based company to plug in a Big 12 school for the annual event.
9. Lets talk more about the school as a whole and University of South Florida has a 43, 846 on campus students with another 15,000 online. Their alumni base just shy of 300,000 students who are graduates of USF since the school was established in 1956.
That would make USF second only to UCF in the size of the school and alumni base in the new Big 12.
The University of South Florida is once again the fastest-rising university in America, according to U.S. News and World Report’s (U.S. News) 2021 Best Colleges rankings . Over the past 10 years, USF has raised 78 spots among all universities, from No. 181 to No. 46, more than any other university in the country. This is the second consecutive year USF is among the top 50 public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News.
In other rankings The Princeton College Review has USF second only to the University of Florida in the state when it comes to “Best Value Colleges.” In national Top Ten rankings they are at No. 8 among public universities, alongside such institutions as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, University of Michigan and Texas A&M University.
Academics wise there is no doubt that USF is rapidly headed to join the University of Florida as the only two state schools to belong to the prestigious Association of American Universities. At present there are only 66 AAU members in the United States and with the work being done at the USF Medical School they are on track to joining that group within this decade.
10. Media wise Tampa-St. Petersburg is the nation’s 13th largest media market but it also is as of 2021 the ninth fastest growing metro area in the country. The area also ranks as the 7th largest Hispanic market in the US and both the English and Spanish market shares are expected to grow over the next decade.
In the new Big 12 the Tampa-St. Petersburg Market would behind just Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston.
11. In 2019 (before the pandemic) 116.5 million visitors came through the Tampa – St. Petersburg area to visit the beaches, or just drop by Bush Gardens and maybe take in a Spring Training game. The area boasts a world-class airport, plus some of the best resorts and restaurants to just have a fun day or week.
12. Tampa knows how to host a big event and the Big 12 could benefit from their long track record success. The Bay area is fourth on the list of Most Super Bowls hosted at five, the have hosted the College Football Playoff Championship game, the NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship Tournament, the NCAA Women’s Final Four, the Frozen Four Men’s Hockey Tournament, numerous NCAA Men’s Regional Basketball Tournaments and a number of AAC conference tournaments including the baseball championship event at Clearwater’s Spectrum Field the spring home of the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa’s George M. Steinbrenner Field, the winter home of the Yankees has hosted major college tournaments in the past.
12 A. The pairing of the USF and UCF in the Big 12 would give the conference “The War on I-4,” rivalry which yearly is one of the highest rated football games played on Thanksgiving Friday.
I might have missed a few things but USF is an established university that just keeps working harder each year to get better on the athletic field and in the classrooms. I think that looking at the sports and academic programs at USF today and judging them not on the future would be a big mistake when the Big 12 enters phase two of their expansion.