Since the break up of the Big East and it’s football schools creating the American Athletic Conference, USF has been on the outside of the Power 5 conferences looking in. The Big East used to be in that upper tier of conferences and USF was able to make the jump from Conference-USA to the Big East. Now, USF is looking to move back into that top tier with membership in the Big 12 Conference.

USF is one of 11 universities in talks with the Big 12 about expansion candidacy. Several schools have already been eliminated from contention. In Tampa Bay, USF offers the 11th largest media market in the United States to a conference that is mostly located in the midwest. Basically every team in FBS football, as well as for baseball and other sports, recruit from the state of Florida. Having those teams come in to Florida would be a boost for them in recruiting.

On Friday, USF had meetings with Big 12 officials selling their school and the Tampa Bay area. And they had some help from other Tampa figures. It was reported that former Buccaneers head coach and still Tampa resident Tony Dungy was a part of the group. Former major leaguer, Devil Ray and Tampa native Tino Martinez was also present for the meetings.

Perhaps the most surprising member of that group was Tampa Bay Lightning and Storm owner Jeff Vinik. Vinik already has a relationship with USF as he has donated an acre of land towards moving USF’s school of medicine into the downtown area. He’s also shown since taking over ownership of the Lightning how much he cares about the area and growing it. His motives aren’t completely altruistic as he surely understands that increased attention to downtown Tampa and the area can benefit him financially through the Lightning and Storm as well as his real estate investments around Amalie Arena.

But that doesn’t take anything away from his interest in USF. You don’t see the Glazers or Stu Sternberg showing the same level of interest in promoting Tampa Bay. Vinik loves it here and has moved his family down here. It’s one more thing that shows us how great of an owner we have and how lucky we are to have a man like Jeff Vinik supporting Tampa Bay.

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