Fennelly: What USF should and shouldn't say to the Big 12

South Florida head coach Willie Taggart sings the school song with his team after the Bulls' 56-20 victory over Towson at Raymond James in Tampa on Saturday, September 3, 2016. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
South Florida head coach Willie Taggart sings the school song with his team after the Bulls' 56-20 victory over Towson at Raymond James in Tampa on Saturday, September 3, 2016. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Sept. 8, 2016

I know I can't be part of USF's in-person Big 12 presentation, which will occur sometime this week. Maybe it has already happened. It's double secret.

In case it hasn't, here are some helpful tips for USF president Judy Genshaft and USF athletic director Mark Harlan.

1. Don't slouch.

2. No hand puppets. I know, Judy, you worked on them all night.

3. Even if someone throws a basketball at you, don't discuss your men's program.

4. Do say: "Yes, Cincinnati has lovely beaches, doesn't it?"

5. Don't say: "I'd like you to meet USF alumnus and Sledge-O-Matic inventor: GALLAGHER."

6. Do say: "Just call us the Church of Latter Day Whenever You Need Us, and Twice on Sundays."

7. Don't say: "I know we got just 22,000 for the opener, but they made the noise of 26,000."

8. Get tough. Say the Big 12 can't survive, long term, without you. Really. Say it.

We're still not sure the Big 12 is expanding. Big 12 isn't sure, either.

I wouldn't put it past the Big 12 presidents to milk this for more money from TV for the 10 schools already in.

It's Cockamamie Central Command.

I'm not even sure expansion candidate Houston did itself good by beating No. 3 Oklahoma. Either it looks expansion-ready or it scared off Big 12 teams who don't want Houston beating them and stealing in-state recruits.

So what if the Big 12 doesn't expand?

What are the schools with their noses pressed to the window going to do?

Revolt? Give up?

No, they'll wait until the next time the Big 12 wants to scratch an itch, two years from now, six years from now, whenever. The 12 schools still in the running this time would all come running next time, too. They're prisoners of this process.

For USF, and fellow Sunshine school UCF, it's time to get tough.

The best play is from a position of blissful aggression.

Talk directly the Big 12 as if Texas and Oklahoma aren't even going to be in the picture seven years down the road, because they won't be.

Oklahoma will leave. Texas will leave.

Speak to the eight children left in the house when the parents leave.

Go back to suggestion No. 8.

Tell the Big 12 it needs USF and UCF as much as USF and UCF need the Big 12.

That's right. Bluff.

This is for Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.

Look all eight of those schools. In the eye.

This is about looking into a future, not a Big 12 strength. It once missed the boat on taking Louisville since it announced it wasn't expanding, only to decide to expand 111 seconds later only because the ACC got its own network.

This is about seeing a Big 12 without Oklahoma and Texas. Most people assume the Big 12 would disintegrate if that happened — it would be the Power Four, four 16-team super conferences, and everyone scuttling about for crumbs. Sounds about right.

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If I'm the Big 12, I have to think about expanding, seriously expanding, two teams at the very least, possibly four, and that brings USF and UCF into the picture.

This is ultimately about survival for the Big 12, and that means a Houston and a BYU. That means a Florida footprint, if you ask me.

USF and UCF will continue to grow, and their football programs project to do the same. Pay no attention to that embarrassingly small crowd at USF's opener Saturday night. It's a leap of faith, but I would be willing to take it if I'm the Big 12 and I know there won't be a Big 12 if Oklahoma and Texas leave and maybe take Oklahoma State and TCU, too.

This is the time to build a bridge to the future.

At the very least, all this interview jazz will be good practice for USF and UCF, who should be in this thing together. Yeah, didn't like the George O'Leary statue plans at UCF, but the only way USF is getting in — already a long shot — is if it's in tandem with UCF.

Hey, the I-4 corridor decided presidential elections.

Why not the survival of a football conference?