Letters from Louk: Memories From Leagues Past

May 27, 2010

The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.

Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways... So this week he talks about the progression of USF Athletics through four conferences in Memories from Leagues Past

Four conferences in 20 years is pretty unusual for a college program, but it's a path the Bulls have taken and it's served them well. Each conference switch has represented a jump up for the program. Every move has turned out to be a good one, and the end result is a spot in a BCS conference for a still relatively young athletic program.

Most Bulls fans know about USF's most recent conference affiliations (Conference USA, 1995-2005) and of course our current league, the BIG EAST (2005-present).

Veteran Bulls fans also remember the Sun Belt. 

USF became a charter member in 1976, and stayed for 15 seasons. "The alphabet league," as some called it, included UAB, USF, VCU (Virginia Commonwealth), ODU (Old Dominion) and UNCC (UNC Charlotte) among others. It was a non-football league, but it was a very solid (though often underrated) basketball conference. 

It was a good home to the Bulls for many years, but in 1991, it was time for USF to re-evaluate Sun Belt membership. Things were changing quickly across the NCAA landscape.

Sound familiar?

Click below to listen to Jim Louk and Jim Henderson call USF's first-ever Metro Conference men's basketball game, against UNC Charlotte on Jan. 11, 1992.

Twenty years ago the Sun Belt was in transition with some teams, including UAB, bound for a brand new conference, the Great Midwest. Teams were rumored out of the Sun Belt; new teams were rumored in. USF officials realized that standing still in their conference might very well represent a backwards move for the Bulls.

That led USF to a brief stay in the Metro Conference.

For many Bulls fans it's the forgotten USF conference. The Metro served as a bridge from here (Sun Belt) to there (Conference USA) for four seasons. USF's stay was brief, but profitable. You could argue that those four years of competition set the Bulls on the path to BCS inclusion. Those seasons in the Metro Conference represented the Bulls' first forward movement in conference alignment, and acted as a catalyst in USF's climb to being a major college athletics program in a great league like the  BIG EAST.

The Metro was already more than 15 years old when the Bulls joined in 1991. It was wounded by that year's conference re-alignment, losing Florida State to the ACC, South Carolina to the SEC, and Cincinnati and Memphis to the Great Midwest. To rebuild the conference, the Metro turned to three Sun Belt teams: UNC Charlotte, Virginia Commonwealth and USF. It was a major decision and one that greatly changed the face of the conference. Until the shift, all Metro teams played football. The three incoming schools did not.

Even without football, the Bulls benefitted immediately from the move to the Metro. USF was suddenly in a league with Louisville, Tulane, Southern Miss and Virginia Tech, and the fans were genuinely excited about it. The Bulls' first ever home Metro Conference basketball game against former Sun Belt rival Charlotte sold out the Sun Dome on Jan. 11, 1992. 

USF's basketball success was mixed in the Metro. The Bulls went 7-5 that first year in the league and went to the NCAA Tournament. Rebuilding followed, and the Bulls managed just nine more Metro wins in their final three years in the league. USF never did win a Metro Conference Tournament game in four tries, but the stage was set for an increasingly higher level of competition for the Bulls. In many ways, there was no looking back for USF after the Metro.

Shortly after the Bulls joined the league, talks about yet another new conference, to be called Conference USA, began. It would include a combination of Metro and Great Midwest programs. Those left out of the mix threatened litigation, but by 1995 the seeds had been sown. Conference USA was born and the Bulls were in, beginning in the 1995-96 academic year. The beginning of the new league marked the passing of both the Metro and Great Midwest Conferences.

Metro Conference Season Ticket Fliers (click to enlarge)
1992-93 1993-94

Even though it was brief, I personally  enjoyed our time in the Metro. The Sun Belt was great, but the Metro always felt more like the big time to me. It meant new road trips.  Blacksburg (Virginia Tech) was a great trip to the Virginia countryside and mountains. Louisville meant historic Freedom Hall, a venue the Bulls hadn't played in since the 1985 NIT. New Orleans (Tulane) was...well, New Orleans...always a lot of fun.

Hattiesburg? Well, that could be a chore, including the year we got there by flying first to Houston, then back to New Orleans and then busing to Hattiesburg. But Southern Miss turned out to be a great rival, and that always made the games entertaining.

No one knows how future conference alignments may change in the upcoming months, and how those changes may or may not affect the Bulls. But keep in mind, for the last 20 years, every time the landscape  changed, the Bulls made the right move.


Jim Louk
Jim Louk   Jim Louk
  Voice of the USF Athletics since 1983
When the 2010-11 academic year rolls around, Jim Louk will begin his 27th year in the athletics department at the University of South Florida and his fifth as Assistant Director of Athletics for Sales and Broadcasting.

Louk came to USF in 1983 as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Bulls’ men’s basketball team and served as the lead voice until the conclusion of the 1997 season. He then made the transition to football in USF’s inaugural 1997 season, and still serves as the team’s play-by-play announcer today. Louk will come into the 2010 football season having broadcast every Bulls’ game in their history – a span of 152 games.

Not only a contributor over the airwaves, Louk has also made his presence felt in getting other USF sports teams exposure on radio and television as well. Prior to the 2003-04 season only men’s basketball and football were consistently seen or heard in the Tampa Bay area. However, since then, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s basketball, softball and baseball all make regular appearances on either radio, television or on the internet – via audio or video – with live streaming.

Truly the “Voice of USF Athletics,” in addition to men’s basketball and football, Louk has also frequently announced USF women’s basketball, baseball and softball games for both radio and television.

On the sales side, Louk heads up all season and group ticket sales for USF athletics while also overseeing a staff of three associates. The ticket sales team was part of a departmental sales effort that resulted in over 7 million dollars of USF game ticket sales in the 2009-10 academic year.

A native of Rochester, N.Y., Louk is a 1979 graduate of the University of Bridgeport where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Louk, his wife Barbara and their son Ross reside in Lutz.


05/14/10 - Fond & Funny Memories at Red McEwen Field
05/27/10 - Memories of Leauges Past

1992-93 1992-93 1993-94 1993-94

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