USF: Big East Bound — And Determined

For too many years USF bore the burden of an inferiority complex. “South Florida” was a confusing, geographic misnomer. It was “merely” a “commuter school.” It was someBrobdingnagian misfit — the biggest school in the country without a football team. It was the Tampa Bay area’s “best kept secret,” etc.

No more.

USF is an acknowledged national player among urban research universities. It has taken quantum leaps in on-campus housing. Its regional economic impact is measured in 10 figures. It’s unabashedly accessible to those who live within a commutable distance and plays a key, hands-on partnership role — from health clinics to urban planning — with its community.

And, yes, it has a head-turning 1-A football program that calls the best stadium in the country home.

And now that football team — and all other intercollegiate sports — will soon be part of the Big East Conference. Certainly by 2005. Conceivably by next season.

The Big East is big prestige and bigger dollars than USF is used to. It means, for example, Notre Dame and Syracuse on a regular basis. It means the promise of better recruiting. It means the basketball program may finally find a niche other than under-achiever.

There’s also this. In the higher education scheme of things, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re in a BCS conference or not. It shouldn’t matter how you are represented on the fields and courts of play. But it does. Unless you are a university founded in the 18th or 19th centuries and arrayed in ivy and liberalized arts, having this kind of high national profile really matters. And it matters across the board — from endowment gifts to undergraduate interest.

It took a while, but USF obviously has learned a key lesson. If you choose to play, you must play to win. With an enrollment of 40,000 and a TV-market that is 13th in the nation, USF couldn’t be satisfied with non-BCS Conference USA any more than it could be satisfied playing 1-AA football.

Well done. Now play to win in the Big East — including basketball.

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