On-campus football stadium talks move forward at USF

USF officials revealed Tuesday that plans for an on-campus stadium have made significant progress, with hopes that a facility could be ready to host Bulls football games in four or five years.

The university has assembled “an organized effort to make this stadium concept a reality,” USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman said during a board meeting. This effort includes a stadium planning committee that will analyze five sites on or near the Tampa campus.

The cost would vary between 250 and 400 million dollars.

The project’s momentum accelerated in September when board chairman Will Weatherford announced that a stadium would be a priority. Weatherford and USF Acting President Rhea Law then convened the planning committee, which is co-chaired by Stroman and Michael Kelly, vice president for athletics.

Committee members formed four sub-committees, which met every two weeks. They also formed focus groups to hear from the USF community, and they rehired CSL, the Minneapolis-based sports and entertainment company that conducted a market feasibility study for USF Stadium in 2017 and will now update day his work.

“The overwhelming feeling is a lot of excitement and a push to get this done as soon as possible,” Stroman said. “We want to be aggressive.

He said the committee was looking at funding options and the stadium could be ready for games as early as 2026.

Considered locations include sites at the corner of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler Avenue near the campus research area; the intramural fields near dormitories on campus; the Museum of Science and Industry property across from campus on Fowler Avenue; Fowler Field near the Patel Center; and club and intramural grounds in the campus athletics district.

The pros and cons of each site will be considered, Kelly said, but proximity to housing is an important factor. It will also be more than a facility the university only uses six or seven times a year, he said.

Kelly told administrators that USF is in communication with the Tampa Sports Authority and that the university’s contract runs through the 2027 season at Raymond James Stadium. They also have the option of breaking the lease subject to 24 months’ notice.

Administrator Oscar Horton asked if building a stadium might help position USF to compete in a different athletic conference and “get a decent revenue share and things of that nature as well.” The Bulls play in the American Athletic Conference, an all-five division that is not part of college football’s elite. Other AAC schools like Cincinnati, UCF and Houston have recently announced plans to go to the Big 12 of the Power Five.

Kelly said investment in facilities will play a role in this, as will the college’s graduation rate. A “top tier” conference, he said, could bring in an additional $20 million to $30 million a year, he said.

“Hope the SEC saves us a spot, huh?” scolded Horton.

“I hear you,” Kelly replied.

Administrators linked Law’s performance evaluation as interim president to her ability to move the stadium plan forward.

Weatherford, who spoke about the football he played in high school and college, said he supported the aggressive pace and added that it was about more than football.

“In all truth, the stadium is about creating an on-campus experience,” he said. “It’s about the students. It’s about giving alumni yet another reason to come back and experience this campus again with their kids and grandkids and a central location to create amazing memories and remind people why USF is so great.

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