While the South Florida football team, with an assist from the school's student government, is pushing hard for its first bowl bid, some bowls and conferences are maneuvering to squeeze out the Bulls and grab more money for themselves _ and the NCAA said that's okay.
The NCAA's football certification subcommittee determined Wednesday that bowls and conferences can create new affiliations until the bids are extended, leaving independent USF with few advocates and little leverage.
A victory Saturday would give the Bulls a 9-2 record, and athletic director Lee Roy Selmon is touting the nation's 13th-largest television market, a large school that would be making its first bowl appearance and the USF's No. 28 BCS ranking. But it might not be enough.
"I'm giving all of the information to them, and then the ball is in their court," Selmon said.
But bowls like tradition-rich teams from power conferences with reputations for bringing fans and television viewers. Wednesday's ruling leaves the door open for creative maneuvering that could thwart USF's bowl hopes even though there are 28 bowl games (up from 25 last year) and the Bulls are receiving votes in both polls.
Several Internet sites had projected USF to a bowl game for the past several weeks, usually the Motor City Bowl. But Tuesday, cbs.sportsline.com projected Washington (Pac-10) to the Motor City Bowl. Late Wednesday, collegebcs.com had Texas A&M (Big 12) playing in Detroit. .
For the first time, neither site has USF in a bowl.
Coach Jim Leavitt said he remains hopeful.
"I received some encouraging phone calls today. I think we still have a chance," Leavitt said. "We need to win. This Saturday's very important."
Wednesday's ruling allows conferences with a surplus of bowl-eligible teams, like the Big 12 and Pac-10, to replace conferences with a bowl-eligible deficit. It also waters down the 6-6 rule, which the NCAA installed in April, that says 6-6 teams in a conference only can play in a bowl as a conference tie-in, and only if a seven-win team in the conference is unavailable. Bowls now can bring in a 6-6 team by signing an 11th-hour contingency contract.
Dennis Poppe, NCAA managing director for baseball and football, said the football certification subcommittee met to clarify its rules after learning of the Seattle Bowl's intent to create a contingency contract with the Pac-10. The Seattle Bowl wanted local-school Washington for its game (to take a possible unclaimed bid contracted to the Mountain West Conference) even if the Huskies finished 6-6, as is expected. The Seattle Times reported the plan Friday.
USF, with an average home attendance of 26,304, would sell relatively few bowl tickets compared with schools like Texas A&M and Washington, but the student government is helping. It would donate $50,000 to subsidize 500 students' travel expenses to a bowl game. Also, Selmon said he would try to lure sponsors to help USF purchase tickets if it would make the difference.
"We're giving thought to all of that," Selmon said.
Ironically, one league that could possibly deny USF a bowl bid is Conference USA. The Bulls are a charter member of C-USA in every sport except football, which begins next year.
C-USA has five bowl tie-ins and could finish with six bowl-eligible teams. In that scenario, the league could "shop around" the extra team for an at-large berth.
"(The Bulls have) positioned themselves for a bowl with their record, the wins they have and their votes in the (national) polls," C-USA assistant commissioner Brian Teter said. "But the reality is, they are not in the league this year."
C-USA also could work for USF. The league has only four bowl-eligible teams. If it doesn't get a fifth, Teter said C-USA would advocate USF receiving its final bid to either the Hawaii Bowl or New Orleans Bowl.
"You use whatever network you can, in any place you can, whatever help they can afford," said Selmon, who has had bowl discussions with C-USA representatives. "I've been placing some calls around the landscape."
Selmon has been in contact with four bowls _ the Music City (Nashville) and Motor City bowls, which have Big Ten tie-ins, and the San Francisco and Seattle bowls. He said he is raising awareness of USF, touting the program's success, the excitement level surrounding the potential first bowl appearance and the big TV market.
He intends to make more calls next week, perhaps to the New Orleans, Hawaii and Independence bowls.
If USF were to go to a bowl with a C-USA tie-in, it likely would have to give a percentage of the money _ the minimum bowl payout is $750,000 _ to the league. If USF plays in a non-C-USA affiliated bowl, Selmon said it was uncertain how much, if any, the Bulls would share.