Wouldn’t it have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when USF leadership decided to begin a football program and thus become a ‘football school’? A senior capstone course for history majors examined this pivotal change with first-hand research in the spring of 2012.
The course was taught by 2012 USF Postdoctoral Scholar Augustine Sedgwick, who wanted a research-based class for undergrads. Often times, historians build upon the research, accounts, and opinions of existing historical scholarship — historiography — rather than the research-based approach of working with original source documents to reconstruct moments of change. Of the hands-on technique, Dr. Sedgwick says, “It’s what professional historians do – but it’s often not what history students do.”
Since sports, especially football, have become such a large influence on American life — and life at USF — Dr. Sedgwick understood that examining the transition from non-football school to football school would be a highly relevant experience for USF history undergrads. In addition to tracing the administration’s reasoning throughout years of deliberation, the 12 student projects looked at a host of related affects, each approaching a different aspect. Topics ranged from Title IX and its effects on female athletics, to the business implications of a stadium partnership with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to the infrastructure implications of high-level athletics on campus. Since USF was intended to be a top-flight institution from its founding, intercollegiate athletics were seen by some as a distraction and resource drain to be resisted. Yet in 2012, USF has a nationally-respected football program.
The USF Tampa Library’s Special and Digital Collections department is the official repository for the well-indexed collection of University of South Florida archives dating to the university’s founding in 1956. Librarian Andy Huse was instrumental in making the resources available to these students of history.
Student Todd Ciardiello’s research project focused on the ways in which the big three Florida schools with dominant sports programs — The University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of Miami — affected the development of football at USF. These schools’ programs are so all-encompassing that students and alumni sometimes see other aspects of life through the lens of their sports brand, for example the ‘Gator Nation’ concept applied to a personal and even regional identity that the older schools have achieved but USF is still in the process of developing. Says Ciardiello of his experience, “This kind of hands-on research takes a lot of patience but I thought it was valuable — it gives you the confidence, say, if you want to go on to graduate school – that you know what you’re doing and you know where to look.”
Ciardiello’s classmate Michael DeRoma examined the influenced of USF Athletic Director Paul Griffin and his significant role in the development of the football program at USF, whereas he often sees credit given to other administrators. His paper also traces the public and financial development of the program through well-known figures such as Lee Roy Selmon. Since graduating in the spring, DeRoma is pursuing a graduate degree in China, on a full scholarship from USF’s Confucius Institute. Of his experience with the capstone research project, he says, “I had more fun creating this paper than I did with any other paper in college, because it incorporated so many different aspects. It was a true semester-long project that required active research every day.”
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