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USF on-campus football stadium a step closer to reality after trustees meeting

There’s still no funding plan or timeline, but the Bulls’ long-awaited stadium is moving from possibility to reality.
USF's board of trustees heard information Tuesday about a recommended site for an on-campus football stadium, which could look something like this rendering.
USF's board of trustees heard information Tuesday about a recommended site for an on-campus football stadium, which could look something like this rendering. [ Courtesy of USF ]
Published Mar. 8|Updated Mar. 8

TAMPA — USF’s on-campus football stadium took a symbolic but significant step forward Tuesday when the board of trustees signaled approval for a recommended site just north of the team’s current practice fields.

Though no vote was taken and nothing was finalized, the fact that talks have progressed this far is an indicator that the Bulls’ long-awaited pipe dream is getting closer to reality. A $5 million pledge announced Tuesday helps, too.

“We can do this,” chair Will Weatherford said. “It’s right there for us.”

There, specifically, is Sycamore Fields, current intramural fields where the Bulls first practiced a quarter century ago.

The recommended site for USF's on-campus football stadium is just north of the under-construction indoor practice facility.
The recommended site for USF's on-campus football stadium is just north of the under-construction indoor practice facility. [ Courtesy of USF ]

“The fact that the original blood, sweat and tears that were the birth of this program can be the ultimate, final home for us … is a really awesome, historically fitting tie,” athletic director Michael Kelly said.

The site is also — and more importantly — a practical fit. It’s just south of the Greek Village and close to parking. Of the five sites considered, it had the most nearby student housing. That’s critical; Weatherford stressed that leaving Raymond James Stadium for an on-campus structure “is first and foremost about engagement and connection for the entire USF community.”

But the athletic component is important, too. The wooded area to the west would provide a canopied walkway for the team to enter. The Bulls’ football, baseball, softball, soccer and track and field stadiums, plus the Yuengling Center, would all be in the same footprint, creating what Kelly said will be “one of the finest athletic districts in all the country.”

This slide from the presentation at Tuesday's board of trustees meeting shows some possibilities for an on-campus football stadium at USF.
This slide from the presentation at Tuesday's board of trustees meeting shows some possibilities for an on-campus football stadium at USF. [ Courtesy of USF ]

This site would also allow USF to accomplish another long-term goal of adding an operations center, which could be built in the stadium or next to it.

The plan Kelly and USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman presented had a spot for an operations facility between the stadium and the indoor practice facility opening later this year. Players and coaches could access both easily from their day-to-day home; take a few steps north into the stadium or a few steps south into the indoor facility.

The idea is used by schools across the country, including Missouri. The Tigers recently spent $98 million on an end-zone complex at Memorial Stadium. It houses the program’s daily operations, complete with a weight room that looks out on the football field, and is adjacent to their under-construction indoor practice facility.

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Missouri built out the south end zone at Memorial Stadium for a $98 million facility that includes the football operations area.
Missouri built out the south end zone at Memorial Stadium for a $98 million facility that includes the football operations area. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times (2021) ]

USF’s recommended site is not as visible as other possibilities — including one at the corner of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fowler Avenue or one at the Museum of Science and Industry. But no trustee objected or expressed support for an alternative.

With one key question (where) seemingly answered, USF will turn its attention to the next two: how much, and when?

The Bulls will use their recommended site to come up with specific financial estimates. Officials have said little publicly about budget parameters, but Kelly said Tuesday it will likely cost at least $200 million. The price tag depends on everything from seating capacity (probably in the 35,000-40,000 range) and other amenities.

Stroman told the board he expects to come back with a financial plan by the June 15 meeting. He did, however, provide one notable update: a $5 million gift from Frank and Carol Morsani.

“An on-campus stadium elevates not only our athletic programs, but our entire university,” the Morsanis said in a statement. “We look forward to others joining us in making a financial commitment that will help make this project a reality.”

But when? The answer depends on how quickly USF figures out the finances.

The Bulls could be moving from Raymond James Stadium in the next several years.
The Bulls could be moving from Raymond James Stadium in the next several years. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times (2021) ]

Kelly and Stroman have both mentioned the possibility of debuting the stadium for the Bulls’ 2027 season opener against Miami. Weatherford and vice chair Michael E. Griffin both pushed for a ‘26 opening.

“I don’t think we can wait,” Weatherford said. “I think the student body deserve the experience. I think the alumni deserve the experience.”

Kelly said the ‘26 timeline is aggressive but feasible if USF finalizes the budget and funding sources soon. The project will need a year or two of design followed by a year or two of construction.

Still, the fact that USF’s athletic director and board of trustees are publicly discussing a timeline is a major sign of progress. More than five years after starting a study on potential stadium sites, the Bulls finally have one penciled in, plus a $5 million gift to nudge it along. Those aren’t the same as putting shovels in the ground, but that possibility looks closer now than ever.

“I’m highly confident it’s going to happen,” Kelly said. “(Tuesday was) another step forward to prove that it will.”

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