On Jan. 1, USF’s mascot Rocky the Bull enjoyed a $20,000 check for winning the Capital One Mascot Challenge. The next day, Rocky hoisted that giant check at a USF press conference complete with USF President Judy Genshaft and multiple coaches there to celebrate.
The same day of that press conference, UCF football coach George O’Leary and the Knights had a celebration of their own after winning the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl over Baylor. Instead of a check, O’Leary hoisted a gold-encrusted football as the trophy.
For some USF fans, the old saying of the grass being greener on the other side has never been more apparent. Seeing a slightly over-the-top, confetti-ridden press conference for Rocky, after a 2-10 football season while their rival school was in a bowl game, rubbed those fans the wrong way.
On Jan. 2, Voodoo Five, a blog focusing on USF sports, posted an article titled “USF wins a mascot contest. Meanwhile, UCF wins a BCS bowl game.” Beneath is a subhead that reads, “How much more obvious does it get that USF Athletics is a complete disaster?”
The Palm Beach Post published the article on its website the day of. In addition, the article was posted to change.org, petitioning it to have it published in The Oracle. The petition has reached more than 100 signatures.
Change is what they demand – a change in USF Athletics. Some blame Genshaft, some blame USF Athletics Director Doug Woolard.
Whoever is to “blame,” fans view USF Athletics as an overall failure when that simply is not the case.
Fans have every right to be disappointed in USF football. The team has not delivered an above .500 season in four years. USF coach Willie Taggart is new to the team, along with his entire staff, and change isn’t an overnight deal, but 2-10 was the result, and fans weren’t happy.
Apart from football though, fans should be anything but upset at USF Athletics.
While it’s true that Athletics does spend $12,027,850 on football, according to the latest figures USF Athletics reported to the Office of Postsecondary Education, football also brings in $16,295,130 in revenue – more than $10 million more than any other sport.
Still fans remain upset. After all, students make up a big portion of those funds. Each Tampa campus student pays a $10 athletics flat fee and branch campus students pay a $5 dollar flat fee in addition to the $14.15 per credit hour athletic fee, and thus students may feel entitled to perfect teams.
Perhaps they can’t see the bigger picture, maybe because they aren’t around to see it.
USF men’s golf, men and women’s soccer, softball, baseball and women’s basketball – all sports that have delivered USF plenty of success in recent years. That’s a total of seven teams, yet fans call for massive change in USF Athletics over one sport, a sport that USF has completely done over from a staff standpoint.
And just as actions speak louder than words, they should also speak louder than dollar signs.
Sure, plenty of money is pumped into the football program but have fans already forgotten the new baseball stadium or the new softball stadium? How about the new soccer field? The renovations to the Sun Dome certainly help the basketball teams. A new golf facility was recently added as well. Now, there are talks of a new tennis facility being built in years to come.
Talking dollars and getting donations is fine, but it is doubtful all of that was free.
Everyone has heard respect isn’t given, but earned. For the fans that have lost respect for a “failing” USF Athletics program, is it fair to say that those same fans earned that respect in the first place?
It’s USF Athletics’ job to produce winning teams. It’s the fans’ responsibility to create that winning atmosphere.
Softball, arguably USF’s most consistently successful team, won the Big East Conference last season along with nabbing two wins in NCAA Regionals. The team made it as far as the NCAA World Series the season before and hasn’t had a record below .500 since the 2009-10 season.
The men’s golf team was featured in Times Square after this past season after also winning the Big East. USF baseball enjoyed being ranked at one point, just as the softball team has, and made it to the Big East Championship.
The women’s basketball team was featured in the NCAA Tournament just last season, something the men’s soccer team has done since 2007 and made it to the Elite Eight twice in that time period. The women’s soccer team, which has been an above .500 team for the past two seasons, went undefeated at home last season with an 8-0-3 record.
Yet the stadiums of those teams are left barren or half-full – or half-empty depending on what type of fan you are.
Softball manages to fill about half the stadium on average, baseball not as much. The women’s basketball team barely fills a quarter of the Sun Dome, if that. Soccer draws a slightly larger crowd in relation to the size of the field and golf doesn’t receive a whole lot of attention from fans at all.
So when fans say USF Athletics needs a do-over and is a bust, what are those fans referring to?
These teams still produce successful seasons. To say USF Athletics is failing the students would be absurd in that sense.
But back to football, seeing as that’s what some really care about.
Raymond James Stadium has been full of empty red seats for the past few seasons, but last season was an all-time low. It seemed as if after Week 1’s loss to McNeese State, granted it was a bad one, some fans just gave up.
Home field is viewed as an advantage for a reason and USF was far from reaping the benefits. Homecoming attendance was barren to say the least. Through the first six of the seven home games, even USF’s average announced attendance, or number of tickets distributed per game, was 35,752 fans, though higher than the conference average, this is the lowest total in seven years according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times.
If fans think a 2-10 record is embarrassing, the attendance should have been equally as embarrassing. A 2-10 record with packed stadiums game in and game out would be something that demands respect from any school at the very least.
Is it fair for some fans to expect a winning football team in that environment?
This isn’t to say fans are to blame for the lack of success from football. The decisions of USF Athletics when it comes to football have been questioned since the firing of Jim Leavitt, the team’s first coach. There were fans who called for the firing of Skip Holtz, the next coach, and their wish was granted. Now it’s Coach Taggart’s turn along with a completely new staff.
And while “change doesn’t happen overnight” doesn’t seem like an acceptable excuse, Taggart’s last 2-10 record was when he first took over as head coach for Western Kentucky. He was 7-5 in his next two seasons. Though not exactly perfect or bowl game worthy, it may be wise for fans to give Taggart at least another season before grabbing pitchforks and marching up to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletic building and demanding USF Athletics clean house.
In essence, calling USF Athletics a “complete disaster” is extremely hasty and overall untrue. It’s a two-way street and both fans and Athletics need to be in the same car – or bus as Taggart would say. It can’t be fans against Athletics if success is the goal.
Wins bring fans, that’s how sports work for the most part and it’s understandable. So does football need to deliver in that department? Yes. Does USF Athletics as a whole need to? Not necessarily.