When thinking about what to write for my last column, I considered reminiscing about my time on campus and my experiences at USF. I also thought about going out with a bang and really letting the athletic department have it.
But in the end, I decided on talking about some of the firsts I’ve been able to witness and an issue that has bothered me since the Bulls entered the Big East.
After joining the Oracle staff in January 2006, I was lucky enough to cover the women’s basketball program and the best player, men’s or women’s, in USF history. Jessica Dickson helped lead the women’s team to the first NCAA Tournament bid in program history.
Covering the NCAA Tournament show party in March 2006 gave me an opportunity to witness the joy of a team that set the bar for future squads. The history that was established by that team will always be the mark in the women’s program.
This season, Dickson put her name at the top of the scoring list, passing Charlie Bradley with 2,402 points. Dickson also became the first women’s player to be drafted, going in the second round to the Sacramento Monarchs.
The football team, which is the crown jewel of the University, received its first bowl bid in its first year of Big East play. After going 6-6, the Bulls went to the Meinke Car Care Bowl, but came up short 14-0 in a loss to N.C. State.
With the sting of that loss fresh on their minds, USF went 9-4 this season and went to the Papajohns.com Bowl in Alabama. This time, the Bulls captured their first bowl victory 24-7 over East Carolina.
The softball team reached the Super Regionals and the women’s tennis team captured the Big East title for the first time. For an athletic program, that’s quite a bit of firsts to have in two years.
These firsts are the beginning of the Bulls’ growth as USF makes its move in becoming a major power in the Big East. But despite the move, USF is still lacking with state-of-the-art facilities that are needed to compete with powerhouse schools such as Miami, Florida and Florida State. The facilities don’t even match up to the likes of conference foes Connecticut, Notre Dame and Louisville.
The baseball team has held residence at Red McEwen Field since 1966. The softball team has played on the same home field since 1985, with the Sun Dome opening in 1980. None of the facilities on campus have received major renovations since 1996, when the tennis team received six new courts.Coaches, however, are expected to recruit top talent with these Flintstone-like facilities.
According to Vicki Mitchell, associate director of athletic development, the $3 million donation from USF supporters Carol and Frank Morsani is only half of what is needed to begin construction on new football practice fields and a new softball field.
Roughly $3 million more is needed to get started with the new softball field and practice fields. But USF has no timetable for when any of the proposed renovations will get started or finished.
“I can say that fundraising is going well,” Mitchell said. “It’s hard to put a timetable on things … and it’s a work in progress.”
Jim Leavitt has transformed the football program into success, as have Jose Fernandez and Ken Eriksen with the women’s basketball and softball programs. Stan Heath was brought in to turn around the men’s basketball program after consecutive losing seasons in the Big East.
Athletic Director Doug Woolard is expecting all the athletic programs to keep improving in success, but how long can they keep up with the big boys playing in outdated facilities? Bringing in talented recruits hinges as much on facilities as it does on the coach’s recruiting skills.
It’s time for USF to stop talking about new facilities and start getting it done.