So that's how it's going to end. A horrid, unwatchable mess that would be hard to distinguish from the dozens of other horrid, unwatchable messes USF basketball presented us for most of the last eight seasons. Except that this time they wore Mello Yello uniforms.
I found myself wondering, what did the program gain from being in this conference? The occasional, limited success they did have didn't end up helping them in conference roulette, and it certainly didn't make them any more respected or feared. (Just look at the long string of jokes about this game on Twitter, especially when it crawled into overtime tied at 37.) What was the point of it all? Was there an opportunity lost, or did we never have a chance in the first place? Why were we even here?
Would the answer have become more apparent with another year or two? If the conference had hung together long enough for USF to go through a season with a worthy freshman class and a roster full of usable scholarship players, would we have figured it out? Would we have ever stopped feeling like interlopers or party crashers? Would the rest of the basketball powers eventually have considered USF a real member of the group, instead of something they had to suffer through because they had football potential?
USF obviously blew its chance at major success on the football field. Still, being in this conference was a huge benefit for the football program in many other ways. It's harder to argue that USF blew its chance on the court in basketball, because this is and has been The Toughest Job In America. But when I was in Tampa last week and looked around the Sun Dome during the UConn game, things looked awfully familiar. The students are just as disconnected from the basketball program as they were 10 years ago. So are the casual fans and the community. The younger alums, the ones who don't remember what it was like before 1997, are much more interested (and financially invested) in football than they are in basketball. If USF couldn't get people to buy in on basketball again this season, coming off the most successful year they'd ever had, and heading into essentially a new arena, when are they ever going to buy in again? When they're playing Tulane and East Carolina and Memphis and Houston all over again? How's that going to move tickets and get people to donate?
I want us to be successful at basketball. I still care a lot about this program because it was all we had when I started school. Unfortunately, caring about anything USF athletics does right now means a lot of wondering and worrying that we're all just wasting our time.