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Bulls Beat: USF-UCF rivalry a key to the future

TAMPA - The University of South Florida's future with the Big East Conference – or whether the Big East can even manage long-term survival – is anyone's guess. One thing seems probable, though. USF's future conference prospects could be linked to a de facto partnership with the University of Central Florida. It's a natural rivalry, one that continues Wednesday night when the Bulls met the Knights in men's basketball at the UCF Arena. When UCF enters the Big East next season, the football schedule will have a focal point, a nearby conference game. UCF adds value in sports such as basketball, baseball and softball.
Meanwhile, the Big East continues to crumble. Boise State announced this week it will remain in the Mountain West Conference, with San Diego State likely to follow. With all the realignment madness, this actually makes sense. The Boise State/Big East football marriage always smacked of desperation and had a house-of-cards feel to it. Big East football is pretty much out of moves now. The coast-to-coast, 12-team league seems done for 2013. When the Big East's seven Catholic schools drop out to form their new conference, Big East basketball never will be the same. Which leads us back to USF – and UCF. It seemed curious a few weeks back when a joint statement of Big East support was issued by USF president Judy Genshaft and UCF president John Hitt. Or maybe it was just the start of a union that can only help both schools. USF-UCF will be an important cornerstone of the new Big East. Or in a more fatalistic view, if the realignment wheel keeps spinning, if leagues such as the ACC or Big 12 need a Florida presence, USF-UCF can offer the entire Interstate 4 corridor, from Tampa to Daytona Beach, and all the accompanying TV sets. "I think it's a great thing,'' USF men's basketball coach Stan Heath said of the upcoming Bulls-Knights conference rivalry. "It's going to generate a lot of interest at both schools. Who wouldn't want to have an hour-and-a-half bus ride instead of a 2,000-mile plane trip? I think it works well.'' The same can be said for cooperation between USF and UCF. In these uncertain times, where collective assets make a statement, the Bulls and Knights need each other. Fernandez's 200th win Women's basketball coach Jose Fernandez clinched his 200th career victory Monday afternoon with a 74-60 victory against the Detroit Titans. After winning just four games in 2000-01, then following with a seven victory season, Fernandez joked that he "thought we weren't going to get to 50.'' "I'm just thankful to be here 13 years,'' he said. "I was here when we shared offices with softball, volleyball and women's tennis at the bottom of the Sun Dome. When I took over, we were one of the worst (women's basketball programs) in the country, 300th or 310th. "Not many people get the opportunity (to coach for 13 seasons at the same school) with all the changes (these days). I've had opportunities to look elsewhere, but we have a lot of great things going for us right now.'' The Bulls (11-2) open Big East play Tuesday night at home against No. 5-ranked Notre Dame (11-1), which must first travel to Connecticut on Saturday. Bulls bits Lelo Prado's baseball team was voted fifth in the Big East preseason coaches poll, behind Louisville, St. John's, Notre Dame and Connecticut. Bulls outfielder James Ramsay was named to the preseason All-Big East team. USF opens on Feb. 16 with games against Louisville and Indiana at Clearwater. …Ken Eriksen's softball team, coming off a Women's College World Series appearance, opens Feb. 8 at home against Marshall. …Hoping to boost their NFL draft stock, DB Kayvon Webster and LB Sam Barrington will play in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field on Jan. 19, while DT Cory Grissom will play in the Senior Bowl at Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 26. Webster and Grissom will participate in the NFL combine.

jjohnston@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7353 Twitter: JJohnstonTBO

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