Saturday, June 23, 2018
Colleges

Fennelly: USF, UCF need teamwork in Big 12 push

The universe is constantly expanding.

College conferences are not.

This is it.

USF is either in or out.

The Big 12 land rush is on.

It's the pivotal moment in the history of USF athletics.

You're in or you're Southern Miss for the next 500 years.

USF is an underdog. It needs an upset.

And a playing partner.

It needs UCF.

There. I said it.

The Big 12 race has been compared to putting together the at-large field for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The last thing USF needs right now is a mention of men's basketball.

But I don't think that will be as big a factor as some think, provided the basketball mess does not become a mushroom cloud.

If the Big 12 wants USF, the Bulls are in. This is football-driven expansion.

USF's central problem: It's football-driven expansion.

If USF is cooked, it was cooked by underwhelming stretches of football, bad crowds, even all those seasons that started out big but ended at pizza and muffler bowls.

If it wasn't in the nation's 11th-largest TV market, USF wouldn't even get a sniff.

But what does that matter. Colorado and Houston have big TV markets, too.

No matter.

USF still has to go for it.

What choice does it have?

USF president Judy Genshaft and athletic director Mark Harlan have to be all in. I'm sure Harlan is working behind the scenes. He's on it. Don't underestimate this guy.

But certain things need to happen.

First of all, USF needs there to be four Big 12 expansion teams, not two.

It has no chance with just two teams.

Oh, and it needs UCF.

There. I said it again.

Make up, hook up, send chocolates, bury hatchets — whatever it takes — and tag-team a pitch to the Big 12.

USF and UCF. Kissin' cousins. Package deal.

That's the play here. The only play.

Genshaft and Harlan need UCF president John Hitt and UCF athletic director Danny White to be thinking the same thing.

USF can't do this by itself. It needs to convince UCF that it would be taking a chance by going it alone.

Come together. Make it the Big Two.

A USF-UCF tandem might have appeal to the Big 12 as a true Florida footprint.

Pitch it that way. Heck, get the governor and legislature involved.

Pitch each Big 12 football school on getting a game in the Sunshine State once a year. Pitch the combined TV markets of the schools, the recruiting opportunities for Big 12 members — and the football futures of USF and UCF. That might be the toughest sell, but USF has to go for it.

I don't see why the Big 12 would go with one Florida school. It would make that one school an outpost, just like West Virginia. Isn't that why Cincinnati is an early Big 12 favorite, to give West Virginia company?

The problem: Tough as it is to hear for USF fans, UCF might be the more attractive football school at the moment.

That sounds weird, seeing as UCF went 0-12 last season as Willie Taggart began to revive the USF program.

But the Knights won a Fiesta Bowl, beating Baylor on the first day of 2014. Earlier that day — I'll never forget — USF actually held a news conference, with Genshaft and coaches in attendance, to announce that Rocky the Bull had won national mascot of the year after an online vote.

Ah, the low point. Embarrassing.

Then there are those old, hard feelings.

Like when Jungle Jim Leavitt succeeded in getting UCF dropped from the USF football schedule for a while. Or those years when USF effectively blocked UCF from joining the Big East.

No hard feelings!

Genshaft and Harlan's job is to help make the schools come together.

The I-4 Accords.

There's too much riding on this for pride to get in the way for either school.

It's about $3 million per year in media revenue in a place like the American Athletic Conference against at least $30 million per in the Big 12. It's about joining the Power Five or a life sentence in the Group of Death.

It's the most important moment in USF athletics history.

USF needs an upset.

It should do anything it takes.

It should crawl to Orlando if need be.

Maybe UCF would agree to meet in Lakeland.

These two need each other.

And the Big 12 needs both of them.

Anyway, that's the pitch.

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