TAMPA – There are some very good aspects to the University of South Florida’s athletic program. Mark Harlan, the new AD hired Monday to replace the retiring Doug Woolard, acknowledged that.
But whether it’s Harlan, president Judy Genshaft or any of the boosters or fans, something else must be acknowledged.
Revenue-producing football – and to a lesser degree, men’s basketball – must thrive for all of USF athletics to succeed. Those are the biggest jobs facing Harlan – and he knows it.
Willie Taggart’s Bulls almost certainly will jump higher than last season’s 2-10 finish. Already in spring drills, you can notice vast improvement from a unit that produced a national-low 11 offensive touchdowns in 2013. Taggart must fix the on-field deficiencies.
The rest is up to Harlan and his staff.
According to the Tampa Sports Authority, which measures actual attendance at Raymond James Stadium, the Bulls drew a paltry average of 20,379 fans to USF’s seven home games last season.
Harlan’s charge is making USF football more of a must-see fan experience. Down the line, he’s also intrigued with exploring an on-campus football stadium, a decade-long issue for USF boosters.
“I’ve got to get in there and take a look,’’ said Harlan, formerly UCLA’s associate athletic director who negotiated a 30-year lease for the Bruins to play at the off-campus Rose Bowl stadium. “Raymond James is an NFL stadium. I love that. It has a lot to offer, a lot more seats … and people would say a lot of opportunity (to sell more seats).
“The subject of an on-campus stadium has come up. I want to learn more about that and be open and understanding to the passions for that. I get it, but it has to be right and it has to make sense.’’
Harlan is aware that USF football once reached a No. 2 national ranking in 2007 and routinely had large crowds. He wants to enhance the fan experience, which should attract more people. He also knows the best fan experience is winning.
“It starts there,’’ Harlan said. “Winning is a big deal. You’ve got to win for people to come. We’re not going to run from that. …But we also need to look at the experience people are having. I really want it to be something fun.’’
The long wait
Jose Fernandez’s women’s basketball team hopes to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament on Monday night. The Bulls (19-12) came excruciatingly close to a huge win in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, falling to Louisville 60-56.
USF has a few major selling points. Injuries wrecked its non-conference season and accounted for a surprising 5-7 start. The Bulls were the AAC’s third-best team – in a league with No. 1-ranked Connecticut and No. 3 Louisville.
“Nobody in the country is talking about South Florida, but I wouldn’t want to play them in the NCAA tournament,’’ UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “And if anybody gets in ahead of them, there should be an investigation. I don’t think there is any team playing better basketball right now than South Florida is.’’
At USF’s Pro Day on Monday, the Cincinnati Bengals sent their defensive-line coach, Jay Hayes, for a long look at DE Aaron Lynch. “More than just sending him, I liked the one-on-one we had, him teaching me technique and life lessons,’’ Lynch said. “I took more out of that than him coming to see me.’’ …Matt Hill’s men’s tennis team (9-3) defeated No. 27-ranked Penn State 4-3 after dropping the doubles point, then losing the first singles match to fall behind 2-0. Penn State (11-2) had lost only to top-ranked Ohio State. The Bulls travel to No. 6 Illinois on Friday. …Baseball’s Casey Mulholland, who threw eight scoreless innings against Northwestern, was named AAC pitcher of the week. Meanwhile, SS Kyle Teaf leads the AAC in hits (23) and runs scored (16).