Experts: 'Preeminence' could propel Bulls' Power 5 hopes
For all the preseason adoration showering USF, and for all the pricey renovations being done to its home stadium, arguably nothing has bolstered the Bulls' Power Five aspirations lately like one highfalutin-sounding phrase.
That lofty academic status, awarded last week to USF by the Florida Board of Governors' Strategic Planning Committee, will bring $5 million to the school's Tampa campus and increase the luster of its scholastic cachet nationally.
It also might -- just might -- boost the Bulls' remote chances of getting into a Power Five league, experts say.
"An enhanced academic standing and recognition by not only the state of Florida but also the academic community, certainly enhances USF’s opportunities at becoming a member of a Power Five conference," said Dr. Andy Gillentine, associate dean and professor of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at South Carolina.
"Conference expansion is about more than just athletic prowess. Conferences wish to improve their academic reputation as well."
So far, only Florida and FSU have achieved "preeminence" since the Florida Legislature created the Preeminent State Research Universities Program, which grants as much as $15 million in additional state funds that meet 11 of 12 performance benchmarks.
USF currently meets nine of those 12 benchmarks in areas such as national rankings, average GPA and SAT scores for incoming freshmen, and the number of doctoral degrees awarded each year.
USF athletic director Mark Harlan was traveling Monday, but said in a statement: "Athletics shares the university’s aspirations to compete and win among the very best institutions nationally.
"The commitment and investments the university has made under Dr. (Judy) Genshaft are vital to Athletics' pursuit of excellence on and off the field. It is very exciting to be part of such a rapidly ascending institution.”
Gillentine suggested the significance of that extra $5 million to USF's coffers can't be understated. If nothing else, it helps offset any worries regarding future finance issues that may arise.
"Funds allotted to universities typically are limited (if at all) in athletics," Gillentine said, "but this will help insulate against higher education cutbacks that could have an impact on athletic programs."
The timing of the news also seems to benefit the Bulls. Big 12 administrators, who voted earlier this month to re-establish a conference championship game with only 10 teams, are expected to re-convene later this summer to reach at least a preliminary decision on expansion.
Temporary league chairman (and Oklahoma president) David Boren said the financial impact of expansion is only one factor that will be taken under consideration.
"We plan to be here for years to come," Boren said. "So we're thinking not only in the next two or three years and thinking not only in terms of the short-term financial impact...but we're looking at what would enhance the value of this conference."
Today, the Bulls' academic value is a bit greater.
"I know that some people wonder why (academic stature) would matter, but it actually really does to the university presidents who end up making these final decisions," Dr. Dan Rascher, who runs the Sport Management Program at the University of San Francisco and is a nationally hailed sports economist, recently told the Tampa Bay Times.
"They just want their school to be associated with another school that is of high quality academically."