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USF needs stature boost

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

TAMPA -- They're known as "paycheck games," when low-profile programs go on the road to play high-profile programs. The visitor gets a big paycheck and (usually) a loss, the host gets the millions in revenue a home game generates and (usually) a win.

It's college football's quid pro quo.

With the documented monetary debts in its athletic program, it makes sense for South Florida to collect the approximately $850,000 combined for playing at Arkansas and next weekend at Oklahoma.

What the Bulls weren't expecting was a whipping in Little Rock from the snarling, underrated Razorbacks. USF wants to be viewed as a respected program on the rise, not as a chew toy for the big boys. Arkansas and Oklahoma were to be critical platforms for showcasing the program's impressive development (including the eight-game win streak), not exhibits A and B of its shortcomings.

Paycheck school. Fair or unfair, true or not, it is how USF will be labeled if it gets blasted at No. 2-ranked Oklahoma. One smackdown is an aberration; two straight earns a reputation.

A respectable showing in Norman would offset the lingering afterburn of the woodshed beating at Arkansas. With a national television audience watching on TBS, USF can jump right back on the fast track to success.

'CANES, GATORS AND 'NOLES: Oklahoma and Arkansas have spiked the value of USF's schedule this season. But when will the Bulls face one of the Sunshine State big boys: Florida State, Miami or Florida?

USF deputy athletic director Corey Johnson said he has had discussions with all three. He believes USF will play Miami or Florida within a few years. He's less optimistic about FSU, which he said is booked through 2012.

Next season USF plays eight Conference USA games, plus non-conference games against Alabama (away), Eastern Michigan (away) and Baylor (home). Johnson is looking for another home game.

BULL ROUNDUP: The USF athletic association has organized two viewing parties for the Oklahoma game (7 p.m., Sept. 28). The Beef O'Bradys on Fowler Avenue near campus and the Beef O'Bradys on Fourth Street N and 37th Avenue in St. Petersburg will have Bulls-Sooners on all of their big screens, plus door prizes and no cover charge.

The Fowler Avenue Beef O'Bradys hosted a university-sponsored gathering for the Arkansas game.

"We had the place packed. It was unbelieveable," said Eric Soncrant, director of USF's annual fund. "We're trying to use these games as an opportunity to get in touch with Bulls fans."

Soncrant hopes to add a third venue in north Tampa for the Oklahoma game.

KICKIN': The men's soccer team opens C-USA play at 7 tonight against Memphis (4-1, 1-1) at the USF Soccer Stadium. USF (4-1) has not allowed a goal in four of its five games. Memphis is fifth in the nation in scoring with 3.2 goals a game. Hunter West leads the Bulls with five goals, and his one-a-game average is tied for first nationally among freshmen. The Bulls play at Florida Atlantic (1-3-1) at 6 p.m. Sunday.

ON THE BOARD: The women's soccer team has rebounded from a dismal, injury-plagued 2001 season (4-13-2) by winning three of its first five games. The Bulls swept a pair last weekend in Jacksonville, 1-0 over Florida International and 3-2 over Elon. USF opens C-USA play at 5 tonight against DePaul (4-1) at the USF Soccer Stadium. The Bulls play at 1 p.m. Sunday at FSU (3-2-2).

HOT START: The women's volleyball team is 8-3 heading into a tournament this weekend at Western Michigan, opening play at 4:30 p.m. today against 9-1 Syracuse. The Bulls are ninth among teams "also receiving votes" in theAVCA/USA Today Top 25 poll. USF's Michelle Collier ranks sixth nationally and first in C-USA with 5.78 kills per game.

-- Pete Young covers USF sports. He can be reached at 813-226-3346 or via e-mail at young@sptimes.com.

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