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USF sends letter to Big 12 stating case for inclusion

Fans help coach Willie Taggart celebrates a victory over Temple last season at Raymond James Stadium.
Fans help coach Willie Taggart celebrates a victory over Temple last season at Raymond James Stadium.
Published Aug. 5, 2016

TAMPA — Three USF officials, including president Judy Genshaft, recently sent a two-page letter to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby indicating why they feel the school would be an ideal candidate to join the conference.

The letter, obtained Thursday afternoon by the Tampa Bay Times, highlights USF's increasing academic prominence nationally, growing alumni base locally and internationally, overall area population and media market size, and collective athletic competitiveness.

Athletic director Mark Harlan and board of trustees chairman Brian Lamb also signed the letter, dated July 29.

The university had no comment on the letter Thursday. The copy obtained by the Times was unsigned, but ESPN later published the same letter — on USF letterhead — with the signatures of all three officials.

"We believe our values of commitment to our student athletes, engagement in the community, academic achievement, creativity, and integrity align with the Big 12's strong foundation of competitive excellence," the letter states.

"Guided by our vision for future growth and national prominence, we are confident that the University of South Florida would add its own unique strengths to the conference — not to mention a foothold in one of the country's most populous and rapidly growing regions."

The Big 12, which currently consists of 10 teams, announced last month its board of directors had voted unanimously to authorize Bowlsby to explore expansion candidates, with the possibility of adding as many as four teams.

To this point, USF officials have maintained a stealth strategy in their pursuit of Big 12 membership, refusing to publicly comment on their Power Five aspirations. As recently as Tuesday, Harlan held that stance.

"I'm not gonna speak to our strategy, public or otherwise, in particular right now just because we're so excited about the start of the football season and really celebrating the American Athletic Conference's accomplishments this year," he said Tuesday at the AAC's football media day in Newport, R.I.

"But I also remain steadfast in my belief that we're an aspirational institution, and we're gonna continue to try to do great things on the football field and in the rest of our sports."

Former Bulls All-America defensive end George Selvie, a star on the 2007 team briefly ranked second in the BCS standings, said, "Why not USF?" when asked how he would promote the Bulls to Big 12 officials.

"Look at the facilities, the great school, what the program has done," said Selvie, who attended the Bulls' first preseason workout Thursday.

"It can compete on a national level, that's what you want in your conference. … I think South Florida can compete with anybody in the nation. We have done it before and we can do it again."

Among the attributes USF officials cited in the letter:

• An overall football home-attendance average of more than 40,000 since 2005, the year the school joined the Big East

• More than 160,000 alumni reside in the Tampa Bay region, and "thousands more living in 146 countries around the globe"

• "Large and active groups of alumni" of current Big 12 schools reside in the bay area (no specific numbers given)

• The nation's 11th-largest media market (according to Nielsen)

• The College Football Playoff national championship game will be held at Raymond James Stadium in January

• USF is ranked ninth among public universities nationally for U.S. patents granted in 2015, and recently joined 47 other schools nationally in being named an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU)

• An 83 percent NCAA graduation-success rate among student-athletes, who own a combined 3.085 GPA

• The Bulls recently posted a school-record point total (350) in the Learfield Sports Director's Cup, ranking in the top two in the American Athletic Conference a second consecutive year

"As you continue your conversations on raising the Big 12 to further the heights of national prominence, we would welcome the opportunity to meet with you personally to discuss our goals and ambitions," the letter states.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.