Expansion? Leavitt says UCF not 'a juggernaut'
In the week since the Big East's preseason media day in Rhode Island, there's been all sorts of talk about the possibility of Big East expansion, and along the way, there's evolved an odd perception that USF coach Jim Leavitt was not only endorsing a ninth football member, but in support of Central Florida as a possibility.
Our correspondent in Newport, Mike Shalin, sent us audio files of Leavitt's comments during an hour of interviews with journalists in Rhode Island. His comments suggest Leavitt is at best simply aware he isn't in a powerful position to decide about Big East expansion one way or another. Asked directly about how he felt about UCF joining the Big East, here's what Leavitt said:
"It's not really whether I do or not. I have to be careful how I share this stuff. We're not playing them right now, so it's not that. ... I can talk, but I'm not the commissioner, I'm not the people who make those decisions. Does it help you financially? That's got to be the big question. If you add somebody, does it give you more money out? Would it really give you that much more national prominence? Does it help you with television? All those questions are huge."
As a follow-up, Leavitt was asked if having UCF in the Big East would be bad for USF. His response:
"Yeah, but I don't think that's going to slow down the Big East," he said. "I think what's going to happen is 'Is it best for the Big East?' The bottom line is I don't think they really blew people away last year. I don't think they're looked at as a juggernaut right now. I think the only way the Big East would add is if it's something very unique. I think we all know that. Is there interest? I think there's always interest, but the Big East paid pretty good money last year. They're not poverty stricken, I don't think."
UCF, after winning Conference USA in 2007, went 4-8 last season, though the Knights gave USF a real scare in Orlando in September, taking the Bulls to overtime before USF prevailed, 31-24. The Bulls won all four meetings with UCF, but opted not to continue the series, despite strong crowds (the 2007 game in Tampa is one of two sellouts USF has had at Raymond James Stadium) and interest from UCF.
Asked more generally last week by the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner how he feels about expansion, Leavitt had the same response as most Big East coaches over the past four years.
"Do I favor adding to the league? That's a great question. I guess, if it makes us stronger," Leavitt said. "The bottom line is always going to be about money. They've had different movements throughout the country -- has it been financially better? There's big debate about that, with Boston College going to the ACC. Now if you had somebody that was not biased looking at the numbers. Have they made more money, or have they not? Is the ACC stronger than the Big East or not? Looking at head-to-head competition, the ACC and Big East, that's the only way you can go by that. There'd be some debate there. I don't know. I don't know the numbers. I don't crunch numbers."
"I think adding a team would help with scheduling," he added. "But who do you add? You've got 16 (basketball members). That's tough to add a team with 16 members. (Football only?) I'm not for that personally, because I think it takes away from a league if you don't have all the sports playing, in my opinion. I don't think that's the way to go personally. But I think those discussions always are there throughout the country with all leagues, especially in the economic times today. If there's a way people can look at making money and competing for the dollars the SEC has been getting from television, I think people would want to do that, I would think. It seems to make sense. But how and who, that's the real loaded question."