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Amid expansion talk, Harlan says USF being 'proactive'

With the idea of Big 12 expansion seemingly gaining more traction by the day, USF athletic director Mark Harlan indicated to Bulls boosters Friday the school is being "proactive" in exploring opportunities that would enhance Bulls sports.

In a seven-paragraph letter sent to Bulls Club members and season-ticket holders, Harlan acknowledged the national reports of "possible conference expansion and other potential realignments." He then noted a number of USF athletic accomplishments before trying to reassure Bulls supporters thirsting for Power Five status.

"Like many of our peers, we are also an aspirational institution and closely monitor any opportunities that would benefit USF Athletics in the long term," Harlan wrote. "Rest assured, we have been proactive in exploring any and all opportunities that would support this program’s singular focus on sustained excellence."

Harlan's letter (published in full below) comes in the wake of reports indicating presidents from Cincinnati, Memphis and -- to a lesser degree -- Connecticut have made visible efforts to promote their respective universities to Big 12 administrators. USF's efforts to curry favor with the Big 12 are believed to have been done more covertly to this point.

During spring meetings with his athletic directors and football coaches this week in Phoenix, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said a research firm hired by his league indicated the conference would slightly increase its chances of reaching the College Football Playoff if it expanded from 10 to 12 teams and staged a conference title game.
 
"Excellence is and always will be our No. 1 priority," Harlan said.

"We must win on the field and on the courts of all of our sports; we must attract higher attendance at our games; we must increase donor engagement; we must continue to enhance the fan experience; we must position our facilities for success; we must continue to rally community support for all our program.

"These responsibilities start with USF leadership and staff, but they are made possible by our spirited students, coaches, and Bulls fans."

 

Mark Harlan's letter (to Bulls Club members and season-ticket holders):

Dear Bulls Family:

Over the past few months and increasingly this past week, there has been much discussion both locally and nationally regarding possible conference expansion and other potential realignments and, if so, which schools might be under consideration. Conference leaders continue to evaluate their next moves based on their independent research and needs, and any decision will ultimately be up to the presidents of these institutions.

My purpose today is to share some thoughts on our institution.

Since my arrival more than two years ago, questions about conference realignment have been raised by those who love USF deeply.  I have not wavered in my response to them: USF Athletics will continue to make sure that every day, all of our student-athletes, coaches and staff are working tirelessly to achieve excellence in all of our 19 programs. I am grateful for the continued support of our fans as we work together in this regard.

In the past school year, Bulls teams have won multiple American Athletic Conference Championships, participated in multiple NCAA postseasons and, in 2015-2016, for the first time in school history, secured the highest ranking in the American in the Learfield Cup standings, which recognizes outstanding overall achievement in a department.  Meanwhile, we have also celebrated academic wins, with our student athletes sustaining an overall average 3.0 GPA for multiple semesters while our graduation rate continues to steadily climb – now at 82 percent. Moreover, this year USF student-athletes and coaches participated in a record number of community service activities throughout the Tampa Bay region.

Detailing these successes is important in the context of the national dialogue of conference expansion.  We’ve worked toward our achievements in an increasingly competitive American Athletic Conference, which has proven its competitive position against our peer conferences. Like many of our peers, we are also an aspirational institution and closely monitor any opportunities that would benefit USF Athletics in the long term.  Rest assured, we have been proactive in exploring any and all opportunities that would support this program’s singular focus on sustained excellence.

Excellence is and always will be our No. 1 priority. We must win on the field and on the courts of all of our sports; we must attract higher attendance at our games; we must increase donor engagement; we must continue to enhance the fan experience; we must position our facilities for success; we must continue to rally community support for all our program. These responsibilities start with USF leadership and staff, but they are made possible by our spirited students, coaches, and Bulls fans. We cannot achieve excellence without you. Your role in our success is critical and deeply appreciated.

While we always carefully monitor any potential changes to the collegiate athletics landscape, our commitment is to excellence – in competition, in the classroom and in our community. Thank you for your enthusiasm for our program and your support of our incredible student athletes. We are counting on your interest and involvement in all of our athletics activities to ensure we are best positioned for success now and for years to come.

GO BULLS!

[Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2016 6:28pm]

    

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