Both sides of the argument say the other is simply being “petty,” yet that hasn’t dispelled rumors that USF President Judy Genshaft is the reason why the University of Central Florida (UCF) is being overlooked for admittance into the Big East Conference.
In a series of columns this month, Orlando Sentinel columnist and radio personality Mike Bianchi cited sources, such as former UCF student body president and Florida Sen. Lee Constantine, who claim that USF tries to “stand in the way of UCF” and called upon Florida politicians to make USF endorse UCF’s bid into the Big East Conference.
“If you talk to people in and around the Big East and in and around college football, it’s common knowledge, almost,” Bianchi said in an interview with The Oracle. “To me, it’s like Judy Genshaft has taken part in a petty rivalry.”
According to the St. Petersburg Times, Genshaft was asked about the claims by Florida Sen. Jack Latvala during an on-campus meeting Tuesday with the Hillsborough County legislative delegation and said she has “not done anything to hurt anybody.”
“Those statements that are out in the press are not true. That is not the case,” Genshaft said, according to the Times. “I am not stopping any university from coming in. What is happening is the league, or the conference, now is looking at schools, and they have looked very much at schools that are not in any of the states that are represented by the Big East schools right now. The ones that they’re looking at right now, they do not sit in any state that the Big East schools currently are in.”
University spokesman Michael Hoad said Bianchi’s claim is a “silly accusation.” The Big East is not considering any schools from UCF’s Conference USA to replace the spots left by University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University, he said, so Genshaft has not “voted against UCF” to enter the conference.
“What is true is that the conferences don’t tend to select schools that are next to each other,” he said. “That’s why it’s hard for USF to get into the SEC, because UF is there.”
Yet Bianchi, who called Genshaft’s statement disingenuous, said that reasoning is “just not true.”
“Villanova (University) is one of the football teams they are considering adding in the Big East and, last I checked my geography books, Villanova is in the same state as Pitt),” he said. “Now, of course, Pitt just left the Big East, but they were considering Villanova long before Pitt decided to leave.”
The same can be said of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Bianchi said, which houses both North Carolina and North Carolina State, and Miami and Florida State. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) houses the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State, as well as Auburn and Alabama.
“For her to say the Big East doesn’t want schools from the same state, I would say to her, ‘Why not?’ he said. “Every other conference does. I just call them like I see them, and the way I see this is that it’s a shame that USF and UCF cannot be in the same league and have a rivalry that both institutions and both fans would enjoy.”
Hoad said some of the claims could have originated from concerns that USF no longer plays UCF in football. Hoad said USF “has played them and beat them and are willing to play them in the future,” but now the program is “trying to play Florida.”
“It’s a silly thing because nobody’s asking the University of Florida to endorse USF,” he said. “Why would (UF President) Bernie Machen jump forward and say that UCF should be in the SEC? They could accuse any president in Florida of not going out and campaigning for them … (Whether USF endorses UCF) is an irrelevant question.”
During the Tuesday meeting, Genshaft said she has written memos, comments and letters to “different people” about media reports claiming she is blocking UCF’s chance at joining the conference. Some letters she has received “have been so nasty” that they have gone directly to University Police (UP), she said.
“I don’t know that it was a huge threat,” Hoad said of a letter that was sent to UP, “but it was just ugly enough to send it to them.”
Bianchi, who said Genshaft has not returned his interview requests, said he is not “anti-USF,” but is against the idea that the University may prevent its “sister school” from accessing “tens of millions of (Bowl Championship Series) dollars per year.”
The Big East has an automatic bid in a BCS bowl football game, which would help UCF increase funding for its programs, Bianchi said.
Bianchi said UCF’s fate and the fate of the Big East “depends on what the bigger conferences do … because, when it comes to the BCS automatic qualifying leagues, the Big East is, let’s face it, it’s the ‘Big Least.'”
Hoad said the Big East accepts applications from colleges wishing to join their conference and, until UCF comes to a vote for all Big East member colleges, Genshaft would have no say in whether they join. According to ESPN, the Big East university presidents will meet in Washington D.C. on Sunday.
University spokeswoman Lara Wade said Genshaft is not giving interviews at this time.