USF ‘going to’ build on-campus football stadium, board of trustees chair says

Will Weatherford made the announcement during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Bulls’ indoor practice facility.
A rendering of what a football stadium at the University of South Florida could look like.
A rendering of what a football stadium at the University of South Florida could look like. [ Courtesy of USF ]
Published Sept. 8, 2021|Updated Sept. 8, 2021

TAMPA — As USF football boosters, administrators and players gathered Wednesday for the groundbreaking ceremony of a long-awaited indoor practice facility, board of trustees chair Will Weatherford announced his vision for the Bulls’ next step.

An on-campus football stadium.

“I’m here to tell you we’re going to do it,” Weatherford told a crowd of several hundred supporters.

Related: Five stories that will shape the next 25 years of USF football

He was not, however, ready to share specifics on the obvious questions: Where, when and how much?

Figuring out a location is the first step. Weatherford only said it will be somewhere on the main campus, south of Fletcher Avenue.

Neither Weatherford nor athletic director Michael Kelly were ready to talk about a timeline. Second-year coach Jeff Scott said he’s confident it will come to fruition “sooner rather than later.”

Financial details were not discussed, but one reasonable comparison — the 36,500-seat stadium Colorado State opened in 2017 — cost $220 million.

“This isn’t the time to talk about financing and all of that,” Scott said.

Instead, Wednesday was about planting a seed for action and starting to speak something into existence after years of discussion and inaction. USF looked at potential sites with a 2017 study and released the findings of a feasibility survey the next year.

“I think it wasn’t always the right time,” Scott said, “but it’s the right time now ... .”

If it is the right time — if something is going to materialize beyond renderings and 200 pages of reading material — it will be because of Weatherford.

The former speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives has prioritized a stadium since being selected as chair in June. Scott called it a “bold statement” for Weatherford to take his vision public and believes the chair wouldn’t have done it without a firm plan. By making the announcement during a presidential search, Weatherford also made it clear the next president will be expected to support an idea “whose time has come.”

Related: USF launches national search for a new president

“Everybody intuitively knows we need a stadium on this campus,” Weatherford said, “and so we just needed to put a marker out there and say, ‘We’re going to do it, and it’s going to happen, and people are going to rally behind it.’”

That, to some degree, is what happened with the $22 million indoor facility at the center of Wednesday’s ceremony. When USF introduced the idea of a football complex in November 2017, it didn’t have a timeline; donations would determine that.

Plans changed earlier this year when the Bulls decided they couldn’t wait any longer to start updating their facilities. They’ve had too many practices delayed because of storms — including one Tuesday. Instead of waiting to build a full $40 million football operations center, USF started with an 88,000-square-foot indoor facility.

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Kelly said the football operations building remains a priority for the next phase of facilities upgrades and that the Bulls have already secured more than $10 million in pledges to help fund it. He said USF will examine whether that project “can be done in concert with” the stadium.

While a new football headquarters will obviously cater to the team, USF administrators said a stadium will benefit everyone. The Bulls are looking to boost engagement with alumni. Getting them back to campus for a game is one way to do that. It can also energize a campus that Scott said can be “a little sleepy.”

Related: Inside USF’s physical and figurative locker-room transformation

“It’s what USF fans and I think alums have wanted for a long time,” Kelly said. “This is just the right time and the right step in that evolution.”

The timing could be right, too, because of what’s happening elsewhere. Conference realignment is underway again with the Big 12 expected to announce the addition of UCF, Cincinnati, Houston and BYU as soon as Friday. USF, notably, was left behind, but an on-campus stadium would make them more attractive for the next round of realignment, whenever that is.

Scott said Wednesday’s announcement was “not a reaction” to anything else; it was about planting the seed for a long-overdue addition to campus.

“Frankly, this community and the students and the athletes, they deserve a stadium on their campus,” Weatherford said. “They deserve to have it, and we can do it. And we’re going to do it.”

Related: Why state games like Florida-USF are in danger of disappearing

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