Big moves to the Big East

The USF Athletics Department has seen its last 10 years in Conference USA turn out many winning seasons and a few conference champions. In the 2005 fall semester, USF will join the Big East in a huge division realignment, bringing many of the present rivalries, such as Louisville and Cincinnati, to their new respective homes.

With the university’s future in the balance, the Bulls athletic community realizes that more changes need to occur besides changing the conference logo on the football team’s uniforms.

It was only six months ago that Doug Woolard and company moved into the $18 million state-of-the-art athletic facility, used by the football and soccer teams.

Recently, the first phase of a renovation project that will change the face of USF athletics was put into gear in order to prepare USF for the national spotlight, not only in sports, but also academics.

With the help of former athletic director Lee Roy Selmon, who is in charge of raising funds for additions to USF’s athletics, Woolard laid out an ambitious conceptual rendering that included many necessary but previously neglected improvements to sports complexes.

“What we are really looking at trying to do is to tighten up the athletic facilities,” Woolard said. “(The athletic complex) is certainly a great start for us as we go into the Big East. Now, we need to improve the rest of our athletic facilities, so that way our coaches have the level of playing fields to recruit the kind of athletes we need to be successful in this league.”

Recruiting has become vital to the school in recent years, especially with the football team moving up to Division I so expediently. Over the weekend, the Bulls football program brought Monticello Jefferson County High’s Carlton Hill, who has been rated the nation’s No. 9 quarterback for a college recruit, into the program

Many of the changes, however, will not be only for the football team. While Jim Leavitt and his crew will receive many advancements, which including a multi-purpose field with an artificial surface and a 400-meter track, three new practice fields much closer to the lockers which are closer to the athletic facility will be enjoyed by other teams as well.

Men and women’s soccer will receive a new stadium, as well: Red McEwen Field, where the baseball team has played since 1966, will have a major overhaul and the softball team will get a playing field separate from the ones used for intramural sports. The intramural fields will be moved allowing them to build their own area that will be localized located closer to Fletcher Avenue.

“What we asked ourselves is, ‘How can we try to create both a(n) intramural and recreation district that is much improved?’ and ‘How can we create better athletic venues for recruiting and better venues for fans to be able to come and enjoy that sport, and have a better venue than what we already have’,” Woolard said.

USF has asked designers to incorporate the existing athletic facilities and combine all aspects to create a centralized athletic compound..

Woolard’s background of success at the University of St. Louis is a key component to his excitement about USF’s future. His vision relies on the potential of the school and how it can better facilitate athletics.

“When I was at St. Louis,” Woolard said, “we probably had one of the best soccer complexes in the country, and that helped us recruit.”

While Woolard stresses that recruiting is vital to the school’s success, some coaches have already had great results with the present facilities. But men’s soccer coach George Kiefer welcomes new additions, which is a new home stadium for his players. Kiefer, who spent some time in the Big East at the University of Connecticut as an assistant. coach, knows that new facilities would likely add in the transition into the Big East.

“I think it’s critical that we look at new facilities, department wise, especially going to the Big East,” Kiefer said. “Having been at Connecticut for a while, you go to these campuses and they are very impressive. The stadium we are in right now has done a good job for us, but I truly feel that the last piece, the missing piece, is a state-of-the-art soccer stadium.

“I will do anything ethical I can to help the administration get that new stadium.”

Women’s soccer coach Logan Fleck added, “Anytime you can take an upgrade is good, right? The number one (women’s soccer) team in the nation is Notre Dame, OK? And when you move up to that level, that puts us in a very competitive environment. And anytime you can upgrade to an environment where you compete with the best of the best, its great for your program as a coach.”

Along with all the exterior renovations, the Sun Dome will also receive numerous overhauls that are designed to attract more fans to the games.

Included in the upgrades to USF’s home court are replacing the scoreboards and seats and the addition of luxury suites. The construction of a practice facility for men’s and women’s basketball on the north end of the existing arena is still not definite.

Vicki Mitchell, associate athletic director for Development, said the timeline isn’t worked out yet, but the department wants to start the projects as quickly as possible.

“We would love for it to be done tomorrow,” Mitchell said.

Well, who wouldn’t? But for now, Woolard and associates will continue to find new ways to raise the Bulls’ fan base because he knows that USF’s Big East future is not entirely determined on its athletes; it’s more reliant on its students.

“I hope we can step fairly quickly,” Woolard said. “Because I think its important that we get up to speed as quickly as we can for our student athletes in the Big East. I know its my goal to have the best athletic department in the Big East. But we need those fans, and that’s what I would really like to see this school accomplish: a bigger and better fan base.”