USF and the Big East Conference revealed the 2008 football schedule last Monday. The team’s meteoric rise in the polls last fall put USF in the national spotlight, and the growing interest surrounding the Bulls is reflected in their new schedule.

The Big East’s contract with ESPN guarantees that USF will play on national television at least four times this fall, including a season finale at West Virginia – a game that could determine the Big East Conference champion.

The game that was supposed to take place, however, was to be a home season finale against Rutgers, but because of a contract between the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Raymond James Stadium was off limits to USF on the scheduled day. According to the contract, no games could be played at the stadium during the days leading up to the ACC championship, a game for which the TSA had originally expressed interest in hosting every year. The ACC championship game is scheduled for four days after the proposed USF/Rutgers game.

The problem for USF is that the Rutgers game was scheduled to be a primetime, Thursday night appearance that would have provided the Bulls with national exposure and a home-field advantage. The TSA’s decision to host the ACC championship game over the home season finale of USF – a school that has played at least five home games per year for the last 10 years – is questionable, especially considering that the contract heavily benefits the TSA.

What may end up to be more damaging for USF, however, is the step being taken to ensure that the University is no longer the subject of schedule changes at the hands of other entities.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, USF will have to make a long-term decision to ensure that the TSA respects its scheduling priority. The Times reports that an extension is on the table that will keep USF playing at Raymond James Stadium through the year 2026.

So what began as a slight against USF has now become leverage for the TSA to trap USF in to a long-term deal. The contract USF has with the TSA allows for early termination in the event that the University builds an on-campus stadium.

However, the new proposal does not allow for that, meaning that USF would not be able to build its own stadium or reap the associated financial benefits – including total control of monies produced by concessions, parking and advertising – for 19 years.

With the football team’s success and the rapid growth of its fan base, it would benefit the University more by having to deal with an occasional schedule change now rather than throwing away the possibility of building an on-campus stadium for the next two decades.