USF President Judy Genshaft, recently named to the NCAA's influential Board of Directors, took time Thursday to sit down with Times staff writer Greg Auman.
What are your roots as a sports fan?
I grew up in Canton (Ohio), which has the Football Hall of Fame. The big (high school) rivalry was the Massillon Tigers and the McKinley Bulldogs. I was always athletically inclined, so I did a lot of sports, basketball in middle school. It wasn't truly until I went to Wisconsin and definitely at Ohio State that I was really big into sports. It's an extravaganza there, as it is here.
Are there other sports you've played recreationally?
Tennis was always one of my favorites. Golf, some basketball, but any kind of athletic activity, be it water skiing, aerobics, just keeping active.
How has the past eight years, seeing USF football develop, brought out more of you as a fan?
Absolutely. It's so important. After 16 years at Ohio State, I moved to SUNY-Albany, where there really aren't big sports. In New York, they talk casually about the New York Times and politics, rather than weather and sports. So I felt so much at home getting to the University of South Florida, where there's a big-time school with big-time sports.
Do you have time to get to many non-USF sporting events?
Oh, yeah. We go to Rays games. I'm going to the Magic game. Tuesday, Game 3. My husband is a huge sports fan, so every time we go somewhere, we have to go to a baseball diamond. We just went to St. Louis over Memorial Day, and yes, we went to a baseball game. Wherever we are, we're at some kind of sports activity.
You've thrown out the first pitch for the Rays, right?
That was pretty exciting. (Did you get it over the plate?) Not really. When (Mets and Phillies reliever) Tug McGraw was at Moffitt for a while, before he passed on, Connie Mack and my husband and I had lunch with Tug McGraw. Connie said to him, "I'm going to be asked to throw out the first pitch. Any tips?" Tug said, "Whatever you do, do not step on the pitcher's mound. That's holy ground. Stand in front of it and throw." So I've always remembered that.
What have you seen as the biggest changes to USF since you joined the Big East in 2005?
This institution has moved to a whole different level than it was when I came. When I came, people described the institution as "on the threshhold." There were a couple of interims before I took over, and it was on this path where it was hitting a fork, it could either go one way or another. When I was looking for a presidency, I was looking for a research university presidency, at a big-league university. To me, this had all the pieces together, and we had to take it to the next level.
Certainly, getting into the Big East is part of bringing the institution up a whole other notch than it was before. When I came, the enrollment was around 35,000; it's now 46. We were in a very good conference in Conference USA, but getting into the Big East was just huge. It brought a whole new level of peers, academically.
We always compare ourselves to a metropolitan school, public not private, that has a large medical complex to it as well as some regional campuses. You've got Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati. Those I think of right off the bat. It's the right fit.
Being in close contact with those schools, are there things that you've seen that have shaped the direction for where you want to take USF?
Absolutely. Pittsburgh is what we view as our aspirational peer. It's at a different level that we are. We're really working hard to get to. Right now, we have $366-million research funding, second in the state. Pittsburgh is above that, and it's through their whole medical complex that brings in so much more. We're modeling a lot of what we do after what they have. That kind of peer friendship we have is terrific. We have some collaboration going on now with Georgetown in our medical school.
Tell me what it means to have a seat on the NCAA Board of Directors and how that came about.
It's very exciting. The two positions I have, one is the American Council on Education, the largest association of higher education in America. It represents publics, privates, community colleges, the whole range. That gives me a national overview, but it does not deal with sports.
Being on the NCAA Board is quite an honor. To represent the Big East is also huge, and very prestigious. I was able to secure the position because Nancy Zimpher moved from the University of Cincinnati to SUNY, and I am on the executive board of the Big East.
Did Nancy give you any advice?
She said it moves quickly and there's a lot of information, but it's a very worthwhile board to be on.
Word association: Joe Paterno.
New York Yankees.
I think of Steinbrenner, and I'm curious how they're going to fare, moving forward. He was such an icon there, his leadership. I think we're really fortunate to have their spring training here.
He's a legacy here. Win this BCS, Jim!
Great promise. Excited to have him here.
Did you have a favorite athlete growing up?
Chris Evert. I loved watching her tennis matches.
Onto some issues. How do you feel about the current BCS system and how a national champion is selected, as opposed to any kind of college football playoff system?
In my sense of things, I think the current way we do things works. It gives everybody a good chance to play, especially with all the bowl games that are up now. I think it works and I like it. I don't have a whole lot of reason to think it needs to be changed.
Do you hear a lot from people who do think it needs to be changed?
You hear from them all the time. But it is one that really works, where you see a lot of competition throughout the fall. There are more and more bowl games that everybody gets an opportunity to go to. I think it's a very, very workable system. I worry so much about the playoffs, because it would require so much more time from the students, and they'd lose a lot of academic time.
The other hot-button issue you hear a lot about is the idea that college athletes deserve to be paid some kind of stipend. Where do you stand on that?
I have the sense that it's really a privilege to be a college athlete for a whole variety of reasons. You're a student first and an athlete second. The way we provide the scholarships and the opportunity for them to come together, we really do a good job in the whole training program here. It's really very important.
I am not for commercialization or the extra stipends or anything like that. I think we have to be careful of that. They are still students first.
You're in a difficult position, as you're trying to raise money for facility upgrades in athletics at the same time you're having to make budget cuts as a university. How do you balance that?
It's very hard. You have to see what your goals are and move toward your goals. We have done a very good job under (athletic director Doug Woolard's) direction of separating the state money from the other money that's come in, whether it's bonding or ticket sales. Athletics gets only one very tiny piece of state money, and that tiny, tiny piece is required because it's Title IX. That's the only state money athletics gets.
We are moving forward with the master plan of this, and moving forward because we're coming up with some financing that will make this a viable project. I just think it's very important to move ahead, even during tough times. We have to move forward. Maybe not as fast as we did before, but you have to move forward in order to be competitive.
You've been to our new Marshall Student Center. It's a transformational building, because we are recruiting students now, and once they come into that building, it sets a new standard for the whole campus. This athletic building we're sitting in is a transformational building for athletics. You can't recruit good coaches and all unless you have a facility like this.
The last five years or so, the theme for USF athletics has been moving into the Big East and becoming a presence in a new league. What do you see as your vision for the next five years?
Well, Jim Leavitt is going to win a BCS. Stan Heath is going to win. I hope that is true. What I see also is a real transformation in the facilities around here, the master plan of the facilities. A new practice center for basketball, softball, baseball, the whole athletic district will be changed in five years. We're very committed to that. The other is just keeping our competition up. I know keeping our coaches on our toes and making sure we get the best recruits possible. I want to see the best there is. When you have really top-notch universities, you also have top-notch sports and athletics. That's what this is all about. It goes hand in hand.