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RISING IN THE EAST

Five schools have joined the Big East.

That might be news to those crammed into the Marshall Center ballroom Tuesday _ South Florida administrators, students, alumni, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, Rocky the Bull, media, etc. _ who couldn't possibly have noticed the announcement of DePaul and Marquette.

The reason: The euphoric eruption when Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, via satellite broadcast, followed invitations to Louisville and Cincinnati by calling out school No. 3: The University of South Florida.

"USF has arrived," USF president Judy Genshaft declared. "This puts us in the big leagues."

USF, like the rising star Genshaft always says it is, again has raised its athletic profile.

"Major public universities have big-time sports," Genshaft said. "When you attract faculty from Tier 1 universities, they all expect big-time sports. We're the big player now."

USF was founded in 1956 and started playing basketball in 1971 and football in 1997. In 2005 it joins the storied Big East and its numerous renowned institutions, many of which have been around since long before football and basketball were invented more than a century ago.

"We're growing toward our goal," athletic director Lee Roy Selmon said, "a prominent spot nationally."

USF's conference upgrades have happened fast: Sun Belt, 1976; Metro, 1991; C-USA, 1995; and Big East, 2005.

The Big East opening arose because the ACC, angling for a bigger wedge of the enormous football-revenue pie, enticed three Big East schools to switch leagues, Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

Though football is the driving force behind the restructurings and USF is a football infant, the Bulls had enough clout to leapfrog into a coveted spot in one of the nation's most prestigious conferences.

"We had to find the school long term that had the best possibility of (being) a player in football," Tranghese said. "I talked to a lot of people who know a lot more about football than I do, and they said take (South Florida) in your league. They have a chance to be very good.

"They come in better situated than Virginia Tech did in (1991)."

Like USF, Cincinnati and Louisville are all-sports members. But they are tradition-drenched basketball powerhouses that have been playing football since 1885 and 1912, respectively. Louisville has been to five consecutive bowl games, Cincinnati three.

USF falls well short by those criteria. But the Bulls have assets to overcome scant tradition:

The Tampa/St. Petersburg/Sarasota television market is rated No. 13 nationally.

After Miami's departure, USF maintains the Big East's presence in the fourth-largest state. In a location ripe for a football powerhouse, USF projects as an annual contender for the Big East title.

Schools enjoy trips to Tampa as opposed to, say, New Brunswick, N.J. The weather and plush Raymond James Stadium are advantages. Also, Florida is a recruiting hotbed. All Big East schools have prominent players from the Sunshine State.

With more than 40,000 students, including part-time and graduate students, USF's alumni base is growing rapidly.

"I think they have enormous potential," Tranghese said.

Big East membership has significant perks.

It is an instant status upgrade that should help in myriad ways, from fund-raising to marketing to recruiting in men's basketball and football, the all-important revenue-generating sports.

C-USA's lack of tradition and haphazard geography, combined with USF's historical shortcomings, has made it hard to develop national name recognition. The well-known Big East brand will help.

"We've just moved into a bigger neighborhood," USF associate athletic director Tom Veit said. "We're taking the next step, and like everything we've done, we're doing it pretty quickly."

The Big East's football core is in the populous, media-saturated Northeast, with its branches in Louisville, Cincinnati and Tampa. Its basketball core is similar. Nine of the 16 teams are in large Northeast markets (or nearby), with newcomers DePaul (Chicago), Marquette (Milwaukee), Cincinnati and Louisville, along with Notre Dame and West Virginia, providing a high-profile Midwest extension. Plus, the Big East basketball tournament is at famed Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"We've already been getting calls for basketball and football season tickets," Veit said. "And that was just based on the rumors."

Travel expenses for all sports should increase, but with C-USA adding teams in Texas (Rice, SMU), Oklahoma (Tulsa) and West Virginia (Marshall), staying in C-USA would have meant travel increases.

The Big East competes in several sports in which USF does not field teams, including women's lacrosse and field hockey, but Selmon said he has been told USF will not be required to add sports.

The quality of the Big East vis-a-vis C-USA varies in the "minor" sports. In some it will be an improvement, notably cross country and women's basketball, while in others, such as baseball, the Big East lacks the depth of C-USA.

Another issue is the multimillion-dollar cost of leaving C-USA (exit fees) and joining the Big East (entry fees). USF leaders say Big East membership will be a long-term financial boon, but in the short term the school will take a hit.

Tranghese would not discuss the entry fee amount (though multiple reports put it at roughly $2.5-million), but he said USF would not pay the fee, instead taking a reduced cut of shared league revenue over several years.

C-USA was front-loaded with great basketball schools. However, most of those will be moving to the Big East to form a super-conference. The new 16-team basketball makeup has been tabbed by many pundits as the nation's best.

Pittsburgh and USF are the only ones not to have reached the Final Four, and seven have won national championships, including Syracuse last season.

With Pitt's recent success in basketball and world-class facility, USF will be bringing up the rear with nowhere to go but up and buoyed by the Big East cachet. New USF coach Robert McCullum should be able to lure a higher caliber of recruits.

"The impact on basketball obviously will be as important as the impact on football," USF board chairman Dick Beard said. "It is going to change basketball in Tampa, Fla. You've got national champions coming down here to play USF."

Tranghese expects each league team to play the others at least once a season and the top 12 to qualify for the Big East tournament.

Football, however, is what propelled USF into the Big East. The Bulls' stunning development, from inception in 1997 to Division I-A in 2001, includes a 35-26 win at Pittsburgh and a 5-0 record against future Big East foes. USF is 49-25 in six-plus seasons.

The Big East should help USF continue its remarkably swift rise. Coach Jim Leavitt long has touted the virtues of C-USA _ the Bulls began league play this fall _ but he also has said it is essential to be in a Bowl Championship Series conference. It is invaluable for recruiting and necessary for national title aspirations.

The Big East's lucrative BCS status could change, however. BCS conferences share $13-million in revenue annually. Non-BCS conferences, such as C-USA, get $3-million. The BCS contract expires after 2005 and without Miami and Virginia Tech, the Big East could lose its automatic bid. Selmon and Tranghese said they expect the Big East to retain a prominent role in the BCS.

"I'm very confident we'll be there in the next go-round," said Tranghese, the BCS chairman.

Regardless, getting into the Big East is considered a big step forward for USF athletics, particularly the most important sport, football.

Leavitt rarely addresses such issues during the season. He didn't talk about the Big East at his luncheon Tuesday, and he wasn't at the Marshall Center for the celebration. Last Wednesday, though, he allowed himself a few seconds to think about it.

"Can you imagine if this happens? It would be the most amazing thing," he said. "Absolutely amazing."

BIG EAST CONFERENCE, 2005-06

ALL-SPORTS MEMBERS

CINCINNATI

founded/enrollment: 1819; 34,000

football coach: Rick Minter

basketball coach: Bob Huggins

athletic highlight: men's basketball national titles in 1961 and 1962

notable alums: Sandy Koufax, Oscar Robertson, William Howard Taft

CONNECTICUT

(Storrs, Conn.)

founded/enrollment: 1881; 17,652

football coach: Randy Edsall

basketball coach: Jim Calhoun

athletic highlight: men's basketball national title in 1999

notable alums: Leigh Montville, Ron Paolillo, Richard Mastracchio

LOUISVILLE

founded/enrollment: 1798; 21,089

football coach: Bobby Petrino

basketball coach: Rick Pitino

athletic highlight: men's basketball national titles in 1980 and 1986

notable alums: Johnny Unitas, Dot Richardson, Tom Jackson

PITTSBURGH

founded/enrollment: 1787; 32,107

football coach: Walt Harris

basketball coach: Jamie Dixon

athletic highlight: football national title in 1976

notable alums: Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Orrin Hatch

RUTGERS

(New Brunswick, N.J.)

founded/enrollment: 1766; 33,500

football coach: Greg Schiano

basketball coach: Gary Waters

athletic highlights: played in first intercollegiate football game vs. Princeton in 1869; men's basketball Final Four in 1976

notable alums: Paul Robeson, David Stern, Jim Valvano

SOUTH FLORIDA

founded/enrollment: 1956; 39,262

football coach: Jim Leavitt

basketball coach: Robert McCullum

athletic highlight: NCAA Tournament appearances in 1990 and 1992

notable alums: Tony LaRussa, Gallagher

SYRACUSE

founded/enrollment: 1870; 10,000

football coach: Paul Pasqualoni

basketball coach: Jim Boeheim

athletic highlight: men's basketball national title in 2003

notable alums: Jim Brown, Bob Costas, Ted Koppel

WEST VIRGINIA

(Morgantown, W. Va.)

founded/enrollment: 1867; 21,500

football coach: Rich Rodriguez

basketball coach: John Beilein

athletic highlight: men's basketball national runner-up in 1959

notable alums: Jerry West, David Selby, Stephen Coonts

NON-FOOTBALL MEMBERS

DePAUL

(Chicago)

founded/enrollment: 1898; 25,300

basketball coach: Dave Leitao

men's basketball highlight: Final Four in 1979

notable alums: George Wendt, Richard J. Daley, Richard M. Daley

GEORGETOWN

(Washington, D.C.)

founded/enrollment: 1789; 6,374

basketball coach: Craig Esherick

men's basketball highlight: national title in 1984

notable alums: Bill Clinton, Patrick Buchanan, Paul Tagliabue

MARQUETTE

(Milwaukee)

founded/enrollment: 1881; 11,000

basketball coach: Tom Crean

men's basketball highlight: national title in 1977

notable alums: Chris Farley, Don Ameche, Doc Rivers

NOTRE DAME

South Bend, Ind.

founded/enrollment: 1842; 10,126

basketball coach: Mike Brey

men's basketball highlight: Final Four in 1978

notable alums: Condoleeza Rice, Phil Donahue, Regis Philbin

PROVIDENCE

founded/enrollment: 1917; 3,596

basketball coach: Tim Welsh

men's basketball highlight: Final Four in 1973 and 1987

notable alums: Billy Donovan, Peter Farrelly

ST. JOHN'S (Queens, N.Y.)

founded/enrollment: 1870; 17,200

basketball coach: Mike Jarvis

men's basketball highlight: national runner-up in 1952

notable alums: Mario Cuomo, Susan Kropf

SETON HALL (South Orange, N.J.)

founded/enrollment: 1856; 9,436

basketball coach: Louis Orr

men's basketball highlight: national runner-up in 1989

notable alums: Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery, Bob Ley

VILLANOVA (Villanova, Pa.)

founded/enrollment: 1842; 6,234

basketball coach: Jay Wright

men's basketball highlight: national title in 1985

notable alums: Anthony Zinni, Jim Croce, John Rowland.

_ Compiled by Pete Young.

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