ACC deal nixes USF-Rutgers finale on ESPN
USF won't be able to end its 2008 football season with a Thursday night ESPN showdown against Rutgers because the ACC has reserved use of Raymond James Stadium in the days leading up to the ACC championship game in Tampa on Dec. 6.
The Big East has put its biggest games on Thursday ESPN broadcasts in recent years, and the network had hoped for a national spotlight for USF-Rutgers, two of the conference's rising powers. But when Tampa bid to host the ACC title game, the league required the facility be available four days before the game to facilitate preparing the field and allowing teams access to the stadium.
"Tampa agreed to that, and it's done for good reason," said Michael Kelly, the ACC's associate commissioner for football. "I sat down with (USF athletic director Doug Woolard) and stadium officials in January and heard them out, but we didn't feel we could accommodate their request."
Kelly, who helped the Tampa area land the NCAA Final Four in 1999 and Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 and worked as an associate athletic director at USF in 2001, said Woolard was "very persistent" but "professional and cordial" throughout discussions. Big East associate commissioner Nick Carparelli said his league understood the ACC's contractual rights but had hoped the game could still be played Dec. 4.
"We were hopeful that our game would not interfere with theirs, and never felt it was a sure thing," Carparelli said. "Our efforts were unsuccessful, and we were forced to move on. Doug did everything he could to try to make it happen."
Carparelli said Woolard, who could not immediately be reached for comment, had even offered to play the USF-Rutgers game on a blank field, to minimize the work needed to paint the field for the ACC game. Kelly said the ACC would want the field painted and available before Thursday's game to guard against inclement weather the day before the game. A similar agreement is in place for the week before the 2009 ACC title game, keeping USF from playing a home game in the final week of that season as well.
Carparelli said USF's agreement with the Tampa Sports Authority, which manages Raymond James Stadium, is "very unusual," and that he was not aware of any other major-college program in the country that doesn't have full availability of its home stadium during football season.
Pittsburgh, by comparison, shares Heinz Field with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, but Pitt has the first call on all Thursdays and Saturdays during football season, associate athletic director E.J. Borghetti said Wednesday.
Henry Saavedra, executive director of the Tampa Sports Authority, called the conflict "an unfortunate situation" that could not be resolved despite lengthy discussions.
"I'm sure USF is disappointed, but I can understand the ACC's position. They're two tenants we love," he said.
Saavedra said even if USF officials were unaware of the possibility of Raymond James Stadium hosting the ACC championship game during the window in which its games could be played, they should have been aware of the potential for any conflict, be it a concert or other football game.
He said there is no language in USF's new contract with TSA, signed in August, to reserve specific dates at Raymond James Stadium, which are filled on a "first come, first served" basis. In 1998, USF had to reshuffle its schedule because the stadium was used for an evangelistic crusade by Billy Graham, he said.
USF's contract to use Raymond James Stadium is a five-year agreement with a five-year option. The contract does have a two-year opt-out clause, which would allow USF to get out of the contract at any time, given 24 months' notice.