When USF athletic director Michael Kelly explained the Bulls’ pending football facilities upgrades, he made a comment that, on its surface, had nothing to do a new locker room or indoor practice facility but helped explain the urgency of this $25 million project.
“I’m very excited, quite frankly, about the prospects of the College Football Playoff expanding in the future,” Kelly said Wednesday.
It wasn’t a line steeped in Group of Five wishful thinking. It’s an informed opinion from the CFP’s former chief operating officer — someone who knows that the sport is changing rapidly.
And that USF needs to change with it or risk getting left behind. Consider these three upcoming changes (or possibilities):
• The four-team playoff likely will expand when the CFP’s 12-year contract ends after the 2025 regular season. The exact number (six teams? eight? more?) remains uncertain, but the field almost certainly will open in 2026.
• The NCAA is expected to loosen transfer restrictions later this year, allowing every player to change schools once without penalty.
• If conference realignment happens anytime soon, it will be in the next few years, as TV contracts for the Big Ten (2023), Pac-12 (2024) and Big 12 (2025) expire.
Each shift is significant on its own. But collectively, they have the potential to reshape the sport’s foundation.
To capitalize on them all, USF needed to — in the words of former coach Willie Taggart — do something.
An expanded playoff field will give Group of Five teams the viable championship shot that UCF (2017-18) and Cincinnati (2020) don’t have in the current format. The Bulls, obviously, need to improve drastically on the field to start chasing CFP dreams. The $22 million indoor facility will make that task slightly easier by eliminating lost practice time because of storms.
Although the recruiting benefits of new facilities are generally overblown, there is something to the value of updating amenities that are, by major college football standards, antiquated. USF can’t sell its recent success (12-22 over the past three years), so the $3 million in renovations to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center will give the Bulls something tangible and positive to pitch to potential players.
And more of those big-time players will come to USF, if the Bulls handle this properly. The Tampa Bay area produces more high-end talent than the Bulls can sign. USF can become a logical destination for homegrown stars who don’t work out elsewhere. Like Nate Craig-Myers, the former top-50 national recruit from Tampa Catholic who entered the transfer portal Wednesday.
Conference realignment is a much bigger wildcard. Power Five conferences could choose not to expand this cycle. But if leagues start playing multi-million-dollar musical chairs again, status-quo USF won’t be the most attractive target. Earlier this week, The Athletic didn’t include the Bulls in its list of the top five expansion contenders. One of the teams that did make the cut: UCF.
Although new facilities alone won’t give the Bulls a Big 12 invite, they’re a tangible part of the package and plan. Maybe the revamped locker room attracts a couple top recruits. Perhaps those recruits and the new indoor facility help USF win more games. More wins mean more buzz around town, which increases attendance. The Bulls start looking like a major program — right as the playoff field expands.
Will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, coach Jeff Scott lived it before; on Wednesday, he repeatedly compared these first steps to the ones his last program (Clemson) took as the Tigers were becoming a national powerhouse.
Let’s be clear: USF is not Clemson. The Tigers won a national title 16 years before USF played its first game.
But the Bulls will never even have a chance of approaching Clemson’s status unless they have the institutional alignment and commitment it takes to jump from mid-major team to power program.
“The scheduling we’re doing, the facilities we’re doing and everything we’re doing is in the line of where we want to be,” Kelly said.
With this long-awaited facilities push, the Bulls are at least one step closer to getting there.