The University opened with just enough funds for operation, but with little money for niceties such as resident halls or athletics. The lack of intercollegiate athletics did not stop USF from holding its first homecoming in 1964, and the upstart soccer team was the focus the following year. In the 1970s and 80s, USF’s basketball program was front and center, determining that homecoming be held in the spring. Beginning in the 1990s, USF gradually raised private funds to create a football program and enlisted Lee Roy Selmon to guide its development.
The University’s football program renewed the commitment to homecoming on the part of students, administrators and alumni, prompting increased attendance. The year 1997 marked several milestones. It was the only year that USF held two homecomings, one for the basketball team in the spring, and the first to be held in the fall for the football program. Finally, USF could celebrate setting a national record for graduating 150,000 students faster than any other school in U.S. history. Officials honored Evelyn O’Neal, class of ‘62, and Felisha Cupps, class of ‘96, who are USF’s 1st and 150,000th graduates respectively, during halftime of the 1997 homecoming basketball game. Both honorees were teachers and lived in the area.
In September 1997, the football program was off to an auspicious start with a blowout victory against Kentucky Wesleyan. Football has since brought national attention to USF and its programs. Today, the homecoming football game alone draws attendance that dwarfs any homecoming event held before. While homecoming attendance of 700 to 1,500 was typical during the 1970s and 80s, the homecoming football game alone draws anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 attendees. University administrators began counting the anniversary of the event from 1997 rather than 1964. The year 2014 marks USF’s 50th Homecoming (or 51st if one counts the two events in 1997), although it is officially known as the 18th.