Based on its location, the potential for gameday experience and historical significance, the University of South Florida stadium planning committee has selected what it feels is the best home for Bulls football.
The USF committee, led by Athletic Director Michael Kelly and Jay Stroman, CEO of the USF Foundation, presented their final recommendation for a stadium location in Tampa at Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting. The committee based their selection on the following criteria: parking, transportation, site capacity and characteristics, proximity to the athletic district, distance to student housing, public visibility, tailgating opportunities and space for expansion.
The USF football team currently plays its home games several miles away from the campus at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Following careful deliberation, the stadium planning committee selected Sycamore Fields, where the team currently practices, as the site for an on-campus stadium. Located just to the east of Sycamore Drive, Kelly called the birthplace of the university’s football program in 1996 a “really awesome, historically fitting tie.”
“I would also state as an athletic director that this site would create what I think is one of the finest athletic districts in the country,” said Kelly.
The site, Kelly noted, places the stadium within several hundred yards of USF’s tennis and track facilities, along with the Yuengling Center – home base for the university’s basketball teams. The location is also just north of the new indoor practice facility, which is currently under construction.
Kelly said USF’s ability to place a major stadium in the heart of its athletic district would make other colleges envious.
“Even the other preeminent universities in our state, their arenas and stadiums are nowhere near that close in the big scheme of things …,” said Kelly. “We’re very excited about that aspect.”
In addition to its historical aspect and proximity to other athletic facilities, school officials also praised the site for the tailgating opportunities it provides.
Kelly said the university is eager to utilize the surrounding greenspace and amenities mother nature provides – namely, the towering live oaks. Kelly explained that several existing trails and paths exist to the west of the stadium site, between the tennis and track facilities. He said keeping those pathways creates a unique opportunity for students.
Kelly would also like to create a thoroughfare for fans and students on the east side of the location, from Genshaft Drive to the stadium. That would connect to a proposed brick walkway tentatively called the “Walk of Champions.” In addition to a memorable gameday experience, he said the existing tree canopies would provide a respite from the Florida heat.
“Normally, when these things are built, it’s kind of out into a concrete parking lot out in the middle of nowhere,” said Kelly. “So, for these reasons and more – the gameday experience, proximity to student housing, the walkability of the whole thing and taking advantage of what I think is a very unique entrance into the stadium from many different angles, our committee is recommending this as the best site …”
Just minutes after announcing a site for the much-anticipated stadium, Stroman relayed USF has already received the first major donation for its construction. Stroman said Frank and Carol Morsani, instrumental in bringing football to the university 26 years ago, have pledged $5 million.
Stroman said the philanthropists recognize the value an on-campus stadium brings to USF’s athletic department and how it will transform the entire university system.
“But the second reason, and probably the most important reason to them, they wanted to make this commitment so this would serve as a catalyst for other people in the Tampa Bay region,” said Stroman. “To actually step forward and make lead gifts to this project, too.”
Board of Trustees Chair Will Weatherford noted other positive discussions Stroman has conducted with potential donors, and said the Morsanis committing $5 million this early in the process is indicative of the level of excitement the stadium provides for the community.
Stroman said Weatherford tasked the stadium committee with creating a very aggressive timeline, and the earliest potential date for opening the stadium is 2026. Stroman said everything would have to line up perfectly to achieve that timeline.
Stroman said 2027 would provide more planning time, if needed, and mentioned USF opens the 2027 football season with a home matchup against the University of Miami.
“What better way to maybe open a brand new stadium with an in-state rival at that level,” he asked rhetorically. “So, a lot is going on, but a lot depends on the financial model.”
It was previously reported that the on-campus stadium could cost anywhere between $250 million and $400 million.
Stroman said the funding would come from a mix of bond financing and philanthropy, and USF is working behind the scenes to identify other revenue streams. Stroman said the finance subcommittee is working on an actionable plan to present to the trustees in June.
“What I love about the University of South Florida – is we do things right,” said Weatherford.
“We were very thoughtful about where it’s going. I’m thrilled about this location because I think it creates a further sense of community, a sense of place, and there is some uniqueness to our environment that our peers and our aspirational peers don’t have.”