The Reaction: Students, faculty weigh in on conference shift

While many students embrace the move into the Big East, some wonder if USF will be overmatched.

By Adam Becker – Staff Writer

After USF was announced as a new Big East member Tuesday, USF Athletic Director Lee Roy Selmon said the move was made to accommodate student demands.

However, despite Selmon’s claims, not all USF students are behind the decision. Sophomore E.J. Graham was already against the change before the official announcement, saying USF has struggled in Conference USA athletics and will have an even harder time in its new conference.

“I just want to know why we really (made the switch),” Graham said. “(The Big East) is a sports conference. We aren’t going there to play chess. We’re going to play football, baseball, basketball and other sports.”

But Genshaft said academics played a role in the decision-making process, which upset him more.

“(USF) may say academics is (part of) the reason, but it’s just because they are afraid to say they are looking to make more money from a bigger sports conference,” Graham said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing this to enhance your sports program, so just come out and say it.”

USF will compete in C-USA for one more year before joining the new-look Big East in 2005. In several sports, USF has been consistently near the top of the conference. After just one year of C-USA football and several poor seasons of basketball, some think the Bulls will struggle to remain a force.

“Right now they are pretty much on top of Conference USA in a lot of sports,” freshman David Gidus said. “Now they’re going to go into the Big East and they are going to go right back to the bottom again and work their way back up. Eventually, they’re going to bring in more money, but I think maybe it would be better to stay in Conference USA for a little longer and remain one of the top teams in the conference.”

Some students are excited about the move, though, primarily because it will create excitement around the school’s athletics program.

“I think it’s going to be a great move for USF to get more people to come out to games and to get some of the alumni involved who don’t really care too much about the athletics,” said senior Patrick Dean.

“I think it is a great opportunity for the school to get our name out there and become a big university like UF or FSU,” said senior Christina Burke. “We know we have been good for so long, but now other people will take notice.”

While the move to the Big East is decided, how USF will fare against the new opponents will remain a subject of debate.

The Big East is among the strongest basketball conferences in the nation, boasting Syracuse and Connecticut, last year’s men’s and women’s national champions, respectively. While the conference is losing perhaps its three best football teams when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College defect to the Atlantic Coast Conference, it will remain arguably at a comparable level to C-USA on the gridiron. Several other sports will offer the Bulls increased difficulty.

“(USF) probably won’t go right in and be able to compete,” Burke said. “It will probably take a while to get in there and feel it out, to establish ourselves. But our teams will do the best it can, and in the end I think it’s an opportunity we have to take advantage of.”

Junior Michael Williamson said the level of play in the new conference may be overlooked, and that the school should be prepared for what could be several losing years in some sports.

“I think this could go either way for USF,” Williamson said. “We could see a great rise here, and compete in a great conference, or we could embarrass ourselves and be exposed as in over our heads. I don’t really know which I think will happen.

“I hope we go in and make a name for ourselves, but we are taking a great risk here. What is next for USF sports? We have accomplished so much so rapidly, especially in football. I guess that I think people may not realize what this jump could mean.”

Faculty members see joining the Big East as a big step for USF athletics and academics alike.

By Stefanie Green – News Editor

The move into the Big East Conference is not just a step for USF athletics, but academics as well, USF officials said.

USF President Judy Genshaft said the move allows USF to develop relationships with other universities and advance it as a national research institution.

“It’s a great opportunity to be affiliated with these great institutions, to see USF the way I see USF. These are the universities that will be solid university partners over the next decades,” Genshaft said Tuesday after accepting the invitation at a news conference. “Academically and athletically, it’s a strategic position we love.”

However, Genshaft is not alone in her opinion. Faculty think that the Big East move will also help recruit top students nationwide, more specifically from the Northeast.

Susan MacManus, a USF political science professor, said the move would definitely allow more people to know that USF is not the University of San Francisco — which shares its abbreviation — and that it is located in Tampa, not really in South Florida.

“Big East equals big time,” MacManus said. “This is very important and it is about time that USF gets (the) break it deserves.”

Genshaft added that the Big East Conference will allow USF’s sports to play in large media markets such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and that a big-time sports program can catch the attention of prospective students.

“Now is the time for the Bulls to take advantage and to be on the national stage, to assume its rightful place among top-tier teams, to compete in venues like Madison Square Garden and to secure the bowl we deserve,” Genshaft said.

MacManus added that being on a national stage will give students a closer look at USF as well.

“Like politics, name recognition helps a lot,” MacManus said. “It certainly cannot hurt us when people see halftime highlights on TV. (The move) will be good to recruit both inside and outside of Florida.”

In deciding whether or not to accept an invitation from the conference, Genshaft said she wanted to make sure three imperatives would not be affected.

The first was to ensure that shuffling conferences would do nothing to compromise academics, meaning that no academic money would be used toward athletics.

“That’s our core research, teaching and service mission to the university,” Genshaft said. “We will not divert academic dollars into athletics and we would not use state dollars to subsidize athletics.”

Second was to consider which universities would be USF’s best partners in order to coincide with being a Research I institution.

“We must do what is in the best interest for continued growth and development of the university,” Genshaft said.

The third, Genshaft said was to make sure that any move would advance USF’s position and reputation as a national research university.

“Increased national visibility provides opportunities to expand awareness and the reputation of USF,” she said. “And if you compare our strategic plan and the goals we have set for ourselves with the profiles of these universities, you will see that they are institutions that share our values and commitments to excellence in academics as well as athletics.”

Renu Khator, interim provost of USF, said she believes Genshaft and the Board of Trustees will abide by keeping the funds separate and not compromise academics.

“The important thing is that academics will not be compromised and that state money will not be used for athletics,” Khator said.

Khator added that the move to the Big East will benefit the students at USF, not just for athletics but also in their stay at the university.

“I think it is a great opportunity for USF because it will offer a better experience to students which always helps,” Khator said. “They will have a better identity with USF and stay here along with recruiting in the Big East areas for new students.”

USF already has students that are from the Northeast that attend, but their ranks fail to compare with the number of students that come from parts of Florida.

Of the 4,540 freshmen at USF’s Tampa campus this year, 276 are out of state. Of those, the majority came from New York with 43, New Jersey with 26 and Pennsylvania with 26.

Three of the Big East schools — Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers — are members of the esteemed Association of American Universities, an invitation-only group of 62 of the nation’s top academic schools. Georgetown and Notre Dame also rank high on Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges on its list of the nation’s 64 selective schools.

“There is only an upside to academics in the Big East, no downsides,” Khator said.

John Romeo, faculty representative of athletics, said the Big East Conference is strong both academically and athletically.

“We are placed second in Conference USA academically and to be in the conference with schools that are ranked high, like Syracuse and Notre Dame is a good association,” Romeo said. “With a high academics you have a high athletic profile.”

MacManus said, in the end, the decision to move to the Big East aids everyone involved with the university.

“The bottom line is whether you want to be noticed or not,” MacManus said. “Most people, whether they like sports or not, know this is a good thing for USF.”