USF football reaches new high, but is everybody happy?

09/28/07 Mitch E. Perry
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One of the biggest college football events ever held in Tampa takes place tonight at 8 p.m., when the USF Bulls, ranked 18th in the country, take on the 5th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.

Win or lose, the nationally televised event is the apex of a meteoric rise of a football program that has only been playing for 11 years.

But for everybody wearing green and gold and cheering for the Bulls tonight, there were many on the USF campus back in the early 1990’s who did not want big time college football.

Susan McManus, a professor of political science at USF, said she was one of the few scholars who voted in her department to support football.

There was ferocious debate along academic lines back in 1991 and '92. In November 1992, the faculty Senate approved a resolution opposing football.

A review of editorials by the St. Petersburg Times reveals a deep seated opposition at the time. One read: …”The business of our universities should be educating Florida's young people. With dollars scarce and budgets being cut, it is not the time to go forward with an idea as expensive and risky as football.”

The tension between academics and major athletic programs has raged for decades on college campuses.

Ernest Hooper is a columnist with the St. Petersburg Times. He also covered sports at the high school, college and pro level for many years. Hooper remembers the bitter debate at that time.

Critics said football would cost more than its worth and would drain resources from academic programs. Supporters countered that it would enrich campus life and provide a cash resource among alumni.

The discussions about bringing a football program to the Fowler Avenue campus grew heated at times. Bonnie Yegidis is now the provost at Florida Gulf Coast University. In 1992, she was a social work professor at USF, and cited a survey of campus rape reports that showed 90 percent implicated athletes or members of fraternities.

Yegidis said at the time that research suggested high pressure sports teams and fraternities help create a "rape culture" on campus that needed to be further explored.

Yegidis was in a meeting most of this afternoon at Florida Gulf Coast, and unavailable for comment.

Hooper says right now its nirvana at USF. But if the school maintains a top 20 ranked program, excesses that have hit so many other universities could plague USF.

On Thursday, the state Board of Governors unanimously voted to raise tuition at all state universities by 5 percent, beginning next January. Currently, tuition at state schools is the lowest in the country.

Hooper says the Times ran an op-ed piece earlier this year where challenging the University of Florida’s football and basketball coaches, Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan, to actively work to try to raise fellow professors salaries at UF. Hooper says that’s a positive way to reduce tension between the athetic and academic departments at major universities.

This morning, a rally for the USF Bulls was held in downtown Tampa and led by Mayor Pam Iorio.

Tonight’s game will be the first sellout at 65,000 seat Raymond James Stadium.

WMNF attempted to speak to several professors who were on campus back in 1992 for comment, but were unavailable for comment.

Tonight’s game will be televised by ESPN 2 at 8 p.m.

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