TAMPA — How much longer might USF have to commit to playing in Raymond James Stadium to secure scheduling priority during football season? Longer than its football program has existed.
The term sheet exchanged between the Tampa Sports Authority and USF as they begin negotiating a new lease agreement asks for the Bulls to make a significant long-term commitment: Instead of five years (through 2011) with the right to opt out with two years' notice, the deal would run through 2026, with no early termination.
It's just a starting point for discussion, and the priority right now is trying to reach a compromise that will allow USF and the ACC Championship Game to co-exist in the first week of December, allowing Tampa to bid to host the game again in 2012.
Because the ACC wouldn't allow USF to use the stadium two days before this year's championship game, the Bulls will finish the regular season Dec. 6 at West Virginia, a potential Big East championship game on ESPN or ESPN2 that could go directly up against the ACC game.
Seeing how far USF has come in its first 11 seasons, it's hard to imagine the Bulls locking themselves into RJS for the next 19 years, knowing their growth in that span could certainly allow for an on-campus stadium.
BABY STEPS: The record hasn't changed much, but Stan Heath's first basketball season has brought progress in one area: the Bulls, last in the league in home crowds, have the highest percentage attendance growth in the Big East. Entering Tuesday, USF was averaging 4,992 at home games, up 29.6 percent from last season.
Part of that increase is from a somewhat padded announced crowd of 12,056 for a game with West Virginia at the St. Pete Times Forum. With or without that game, USF would have raised its attendance from last season, something only seven of 16 Big East schools can claim.
The challenge for USF's home finale against Notre Dame on March 8? Sneak past Rutgers and get out of last in the Big East's attendance standings. Entering Tuesday, Rutgers was averaging 5,093, or 101 more per game.
WHO'S AT SECOND?: The indefinite suspension of senior second baseman Dexter Butler (unspecified violation of team rules) hits the Bulls in an area in which they're already facing depth issues: middle infield.
Last year's shortstop, Walter Diaz, skipped his senior season to sign a pro contract; signee Rey Navarro was drafted in the third round and signed with Anaheim. And Jeremy Malmendier, a junior college infielder who signed last summer with the Bulls, left after academic shortcomings in the fall semester.
Who has the first shot at replacing Butler? Freshman Jonathan Koscso, who was a first-team all-state selection at Jesuit last year after batting .525 with 41 RBIs.
Friday brings a spring training exhibition with the Yankees at Legends Field, and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain had fun last week with USF shortstop Addison Maruszak. Chamberlain, speaking at USF's Leadoff Banquet, told Maruszak he didn't need to bring his bat to the plate, just a helmet, betting him a meal he wouldn't even "sniff first base."
THIS AND THAT: Speculation had been that Jim Leavitt's next assistant hire would handle defensive tackles, but the job has been officially posted as a cornerbacks opening. Leavitt hasn't decided how he'll complete his staff, but one interested party is John Hendrick, defensive coordinator at South Carolina State, who coached with Leavitt at Kansas State in 1991-92 and has seven years' experience at Mississippi State. ... Even if men's basketball loses its remaining games, the Bulls won't have the worst three-year stretch in Big East history. Tuesday's opponent, Seton Hall, went 4-44 from 1983-85 for a .083 winning percentage. USF is 6-41 after Tuesday's loss.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.