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South Florida players can visit Ybor City after all

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If a player for the South Florida Bulls wants to go to Hamburger Mary’s, it’s OK.

So is the Columbia. And the Acropolis. And the Czar.

All of Ybor City remains open to the Bulls, in fact, after athletic director Mark Harlan overruled a ban by South Florida head coach Willie Taggart that would have kept his team out of Ybor City following the stabbing death of former USF defensive tackle Elkino Watkins.

Harlan’s reversal of Taggart’s edict was quick and public, coming so fast to lead one to wonder how differently the two men see things going into his third, decisive season. Taggart’s heart might have been in the right place, of course, but Harlan ruled he had overstepped his bounds.

Harlan properly ruled that it’s tough to restrict an entire shopping area of the city to college-aged kids. Would you rule that players couldn’t go to the beach if a misfortune occurred? Downtown? Or to Clearwater? Busch Gardens? The mall? If a man was in a plane crash, would you ban them from the airport?

After all, USF has held functions in Ybor and has taken high school recruits there. Was there going to be a map with allowable destinations marked on it?

“They will not be banned from visiting any areas of our beautiful city,” Harlan said.

In the days to come, fans are sure to wonder about the way the ban-and-unban was handled. Should Taggart have talked to his athletic director before making such a ruling? Probably. Should Harlan have allowed Taggart to “clarify” his ruling himself? Perhaps. But Taggart went public, and then Harlan, and in the end, USF was embarrassed.

The public overruling comes at a bad time for USF, on the heels of a huge victory over Florida A&M and days before the team is scheduled to play FSU. It is never a good thing when alumni and boosters are angry at the program.

During his weekly appearance on the American Athletic Conference coaches teleconference on Monday, Taggart said he was prohibiting his players from hanging out in Ybor City.

“Tampa is a great city with a lot of great places to go year-round to have fun, so our guys are going to find other places to go have fun,” he said. “Ybor will not be one of them.”

Taggart’s reversal – his first botched play call of the year – came so quickly it is sure to make fans wonder about his future with the program. Already, the Internet is buzzing with rumors of a rift between the two.

Several prominent businesses were upset at Taggart’s ban, but Harlan said he did not react out of pressure.

“I would like to make clear USF Athletics’ high regard for Ybor City and its cherished and historical place in our Bay Area community and culture,’’ Harlan said in the statement. “Earlier today, our football coach spoke out of emotion and in reaction to the tragic loss of Elkino Watson.

USF Athletics will continue to focus on reinforcing its policy of student-athletes making smart decisions wherever they may be, looking out for one another, and walking away from any situation that appears threatening. They will not be banned from visiting any areas of our beautiful city.’’

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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