Sales for bowl are a bit short

Published December 14, 2005

TAMPA - Ticket sales for USF's first bowl trip, the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, have been encouraging and disappointing at the same time.

The Bulls had never been allotted more than 3,000 tickets for any road game, so it's a good start that more than 4,000 have been sold in the 10 days since they were invited. That said, bowl officials were hoping for more than twice that.

"We were thinking in the 10,000s, maybe 12,000. It's hard to tell with a program's first bowl, but we were hoping in that range," said Will Webb, the bowl's executive director. "A tough part of this business is that teams are judged based on how well they can travel, but hopefully their fans will step up."

Webb said the bowl's overall ticket sales are in the high 40,000s, with N.C. State purchasing more than 22,000. Big East rival Rutgers, playing in its first bowl in 27 years, has sold about 7,000 for the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

Give USF credit for a new sales push, aimed at fans who want to support the Bulls but can't afford the full cost of airfare and lodging.

For $45, fans can purchase a commemorative ticket, autographed by coach Jim Leavitt and sealed in a special case. For each one sold, USF will donate a $30 upper-level ticket to a Charlotte-area charity.

"I told (athletic director Doug Woolard) I'd sign 1,000 of them; but if they sell 10,000, I'll sign all of them," Leavitt said. "I'll stay up all night."

The promotion started with flyers at USF's basketball doubleheader Saturday, and a link was added to gousfbulls.com Tuesday. Associate athletic director Tom Veit said "a couple hundred" commemorative tickets had been sold, with more expected after an advertising campaign starts this weekend.

"This being our first bowl, I think a lot of people like the commemorative ticket as a souvenir," Woolard said.

All USF's bowl-related travel packages have sold out. Fans calling 1-800-462-8557 (GOBULLS) still can buy tickets and are being directed to online travel sites, where hotel rooms are available.

RECRUITING: Chamberlain outfielder Lauren Rodriguez, a key contributor to last year's Final Four team, committed to play softball for coach Ken Eriksen next season.

"It was just the whole atmosphere, the team, the players," said Rodriguez, who also considered Florida and Alabama. She's part of a steady pipeline from Chamberlain to USF, following current players JoJo Medina, Carly Griffin and Krista Holle.

In football, Leavitt is due to make personal visits to three Pinellas prospects today in Dixie Hollins offensive lineman James Boger, Gibbs defensive back Jerrel Young and East Lake offensive lineman Zach Hermann. Hillsborough and Pinellas players account for half the Bulls' early commitments.

USF had assistant coaches Wally Burnham and Earl Lane in Miami on Tuesday, hoping to land more recruits from Miami Edison, where five players signed with USF two years ago. The Bulls are focusing on quarterback Chris Paul-Etienne and linebacker Melvin Mitchell.

THIS AND THAT: With USF still looking for a I-AA opponent to fill out its 2006 home schedule, McNeese State coach Tommy Tate said his school has been in discussions about a game in Tampa. ... Former Bucs player Steve White, who helped coach USF's defensive ends as a graduate assistant this season, has stepped down, citing personal reasons. ... Junior forward Jessica Dickson was named Big East player of the week for the second time in three weeks and is getting national acclaim as well. Her strong start will be the lead item in this week's Associated Press national notebook. ... The game time for the Dec. 30 women's basketball game at LSU has changed from 8 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Greg Auman covers USF athletics. He can be reached at auman@sptimes.com Check out his "USF Bulletin" blog online at www.sptimes.com/blogs/usf