TAMPA — Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is excited about the week his conference has had, first with the news that an automatic slot in the new top six bowls will go to the highest- ranked champion out of five conferences, including the Big East.
It's not exactly an automatic bid, but in seven of the past eight football seasons, a school from the Big East's 12-team 2013 lineup would have earned such a top bid under the new guidelines.
"We have clear access," he said by phone Tuesday on his way home from a meeting of conference presidents and athletic directors in Chicago. "I think they're going to have an outstanding opportunity at the highest level if we can have the highest ranked champ, and I don't think there's any reason we shouldn't."
Aresco followed that news by unveiling the Big East's new football divisions for 2013-14, with USF in the East with four other returning schools — Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and Rutgers — as well as newcomer Central Florida. The divisions might as well be called New and Old, as the West lineup has five newcomers (Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU and Memphis) and Temple, which rejoined the league this fall.
Aresco likes that the divisions highlight both the national footprint of the league and the regional rivalries, like USF-UCF, Cincinnati-Louisville, Rutgers-Connecticut, Houston-SMU and the West Coast duo of Boise State-San Diego State. Each league team will face the other 11 within the first two years, with opponents likely to be unveiled in the first week of December.
That leaves one huge item on Aresco's agenda — negotiating a lucrative new TV deal, having entered into an open market this month with NBC seen as the top challenger to ESPN.
"Anybody that has our package is going to have a conference that's elevating its brand and its presence. I think we offer an awful lot to anybody who is interested in our rights, and believe me, there are plenty of people who are," he said. "We've talked to a number of networks and other entities. We're looking at all sorts of fun things. There's a lot of interest in our product, as we thought there would be."
HALF-DOZEN: Stan Heath picked up the sixth commitment of his 2013 recruiting class Tuesday night when Dre Clayton, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound forward from Orlando Evans, decided to sign with the Bulls today, when the early signing period begins. Clayton's high school coach is former Bulls standout Chucky Atkins, who was inducted into USF's Athletic Hall of Fame this fall while Clayton made a campus visit.
START ANEW: The USF men's soccer team, which missed the Big East tournament after a rough, injury-riddled finish, made the NCAA Tournament and will host Florida Gulf Coast in a first-round match at 7 Thursday at Corbett Stadium. The Bulls (8-5-4) defeated four RPI top-30 opponents, including Tulsa, which could be a second-round home match Sunday if the Bulls advance. You won't catch coach George Kiefer looking beyond his next opponent, however.
"I've been doing this long enough where, with the NCAA Tournament, teams that are looking at how many home games they have, they typically play one," Kiefer said.
THIS AND THAT: The volleyball team opens play in the Big East tournament Friday as the No. 6 seed in Milwaukee. The Bulls have a tough draw against Notre Dame, the only team to sweep USF since the first of September. … Thanks to help from the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, USF is making general admission tickets for Thursday's NCAA soccer match free to all fans. The Bulls topped 3,000 fans for last year's NCAA Tournament games and another strong crowd is expected at Corbett Stadium.