The University of South Florida's football team is on the up-and-up, risking from the unwashed, unranked masses to the number six ranked school in the nation. They've beaten Auburn and West Virginia, and overtaken Florida in the rankings. Not bad for a school that not long ago didn't even have a football team. School officials hope that USF can become known for the football team rather than that other, slightly more infamous affair.
Since the 1990s USF has been dubbed "Terrorism U." and "Jihad U.," owing to the fact that the university was employing Sami Al-Arian, a former computer-science professor, who just happened to be aiding terrorists.
News reports in the 1990s started linking Al-Arian and associates to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A think tank founded by Al-Arian and partially sponsored by the university was shut down because the FBI suspected it was a front for the terrorist group. An Al-Arian associate who left USF resurfaced later as the head of the PIJ in the Middle East.In the sports world a coach can get fired for just about anything. In the world of academia, once professors earn tenure, well, they're pretty hard to get rid of. Even if they're aiding terrorists. And so it took until 2003 for Al-Arian to be dismissed by USF. This was after he'd pleaded guilty and agreed to be deported. The Jihad and Terrorist label came back this past summer when two USF students from Egypt were indicted on federal explosives charges. One of them is accused of posting videos online showing how to utilize a remote-controlled toy to detonate a bomb. Ooh.
In the eyes of USF, success on the football field will gloss over everything.
"I think everybody feels the real picture of USF will come through because of this," university spokesman Ken Gullette said of the football team's success. "This publicity hopefully is going to drown that out and carry us forward."And in many ways they're right. As long as they win, the school will benefit from it across the board. They just need to keep recruiting football players, not terrorists.