The USF Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday to support President Judy Genshaft and Athletic Director Lee Roy Selmon in their venture toward possibly joining the Big East conference beginning in 2005.
USF is expected to receive a formal invitation, possibly as soon as Tuesday, when the Big East presidents meet in New York City for their annual meeting. Though Genshaft and Selmon didn’t say USF would accept the invitation if it is granted, they didn’t voice any opposition toward the possible move.
“We’ve been very pleased with Conference USA, but we just find that this potential to join the Big East is just the best for our university at this time,” Genshaft said. “If we are extended an invitation to join the Big East, I believe it would be an extraordinary opportunity for USF. This university is poised and ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with top-tier universities like Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse.”
“I haven’t come across any negatives,” Selmon said. “I see this as probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if the invitation is extended.”
The largest focus of the meeting may have been money and if USF could afford a possible conference shift. Though no permanent numbers were available, Carl Carlucci, USF’s chief financial officer, said the school’s athletic budget is comparable to the average of teams currently in the Big East. Carlucci said the average budget for teams playing both football and basketball is $27 million, while the average expenses are $28 million, both of which are currently comparable to USF.
“They are not far from our current budget,” Carlucci said. “We think that we can say to (the BOT) that given their pattern, we could certainly live within those.”
Genshaft expressed three imperatives that she analyzed for USF’s possible conference shuffle.
The first was to ensure that a conference move would do nothing to compromise academics, meaning that no academic money would be diverted toward athletics.
“We will not use state dollars to subsidize athletics,” Genshaft said. “As you all know, we’re fighting very hard for the few state dollars that we have, and they need to stay in the core mission of the university, which is the academic mission.”
The second was to consider which universities would be the best fit, not just athletically but also academically, in order to coincide with USF’s Research I accreditation.
The third was to make sure that any move would advance USF’s position and reputation as a national research university.
“It became clear to myself and our athletic director that if we were to join the Big East, we would be in the company of universities that represent who we are and who we aspire to be,” Genshaft said.
Following Genshaft and Selmon’s address, the BOT quickly expressed its pleasure with the possible conference realignment.
“The board is behind you 100 percent,” Chairman Dick Beard said. “The board believes we’re headed in the right direction and encourage you to make the best deal you can for this university.”
USF was first rumored to join the Big East when Boston College became the third school to leave the conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Big East was already rumored to plan to invite C-USA schools Louisville and Cincinnati to join as all-sports members, while also inviting C-USA schools Marquette and DePaul as non-football members to form a 16-team super basketball conference.
USF was then rumored to replace the Golden Eagles as an all-sports member, in part because it gave the conference ties to Florida.
The biggest impact would of course be to football, where the Bulls would be able to realistically compete for a national championship each year, because the Bowl Championship Series recognizes the Big East but not C-USA.