AFC Champions arrive on campus

Not only did the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers arrive in Tampa on Monday, they arrived at the University of South Florida as well.

USF Associate Director of Athletics and Facilities and Events Management Scott Glaser said Steelers players made their way to the athletics weight room facility for a workout shortly after the team landed at Tampa International Airport on Monday.

Pittsburgh, preparing for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals, will use USF as its home away from home this week, practicing Wednesday through Saturday at the football practice field.

“Our approach as an athletic department is to embrace this opportunity,” Glaser said. “We’ve certainly had to make a couple adjustments, and it’s tough to balance accommodations with our student athletes and the Steelers, but it’s only for a few days.”

Some of the adjustments included increasing security, changing the locker rooms and preparing the Sun Dome to host press conferences later this week, said Chris Freet, assistant athletic director.

“This is big for USF,” he said. “It’s big for our community, and I think everyone here at USF is excited to be a part of it. We’ve just been trying to make sure everything is well in place to accommodate the NFL.”

USF also renovated its practice field: New grass was laid down, the lines and hash marks were repainted and the middle of the field was reseeded.

The logos in the locker room have been replaced by Steelers black and gold, and the locker rooms will be exclusively designated to Pittsburgh coaches and players throughout the week. Glaser said student athletes will use a temporary locker room inside the facility.

“The Steelers will also be available to use our training staff and facilities for their use. They’ll also have access to our equipment rooms as well,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment has been with security.

The University has worked with campus police, Tampa Police, the FBI and the CIA to make sure the facility is secure enough for the NFL to use.

“We had to meet with Homeland Security to make sure things like access points, safety and parking were up to standards,” Glaser said. “Of course, the NFL and the team itself have designated security, but on our part, they’ll have 24-hour security here.”

There have been plenty of changes in security since USF last hosted a Super Bowl participant — the Baltimore Ravens in January 2001.

“The NFL likes to say that the Super Bowl is the safest place on the planet because of all the security measures they take,” Freet said. “I think 9/11 had a lot to do with the tightening of everything.”

Along with the success of the football program and membership in the Big East conference, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said he hopes the exposure of hosting a Super Bowl participant can further USF’s advancement in the national spotlight.

“I think having the Super Bowl here and having big-time football helps the University’s reputation,” he said. “It helps people to localize us, pick us out and see where we are.”

Glaser, who wasn’t involved with initial bidding to host the AFC champions years ago, said the exposure will be good for South Florida.

“Anytime you have an event like this here, it’s rewarding,” he said. “We fought for it, we pitched for it and we finally got it. Our name will be mentioned on all the news channels around the country, and that’s what I think is the great thing about it.”