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Morsanis pitch in millions for USF athletic upgrades
By GREG AUMAN
Published June 2, 2006
TAMPA - When USF wanted a football program in the early 1990s, Frank and Carol Morsani were among the first to write a check. When the Bulls needed a central athletics facility as they prepared for a future in the Big East, they donated $750,000.
And on Thursday, as the Bulls seek funding for at least $33-million in new and upgraded stadiums, the Morsanis have stepped up again, making a $3-million donation toward construction of a new football practice facility and softball stadium.
"We've been thinking about it for a year, and we said doggoneit, this is the time," said Frank Morsani, 75, who also announced a $7-million donation - with matching funds from the state - for an advanced health care center at USF. "With (athletic director) Doug Woolard, you can see some new energy in the place. I headed up the fund-raising for the football program when it started, and softball has done a wonderful job."
The philanthropy is the largest single gift ever to USF athletics, a major step toward funding the two projects, which are budgeted at a combined $6-million. USF hopes to raise the rest of the funds by next summer. A new 1,000-seat stadium, located east of the current baseball stadium, would ideally be home to Ken Eriksen's softball team by 2008.
USF president Judy Genshaft called the gesture "an absolutely transformational gift," and Woolard said it could be an inspiration for other USF boosters.
"The Morsanis have been there for us all along, and this really does a lot for the vision we have for USF athletics," Woolard said. "It could really be a catalyst for something that will be a benefit for our student-athletes for perpetuity."
Following last month's news that Hillsborough County would give USF $2.79-million to build a track and field complex to be jointly used by the Bulls and the county, it's a major step toward the master plan Woolard unveiled in January 2005.
USF has released its initial estimates for eight new and upgraded facilities, including between $8.6-million and $12.5-million for a new baseball stadium and between $7.9-million and $10-million for an addition to the Sun Dome that would house practice courts, locker rooms and coaches' offices for both basketball teams.
Softball, which finished second in the Big East and made its first NCAA super-region appearance last month, now has another tool for recruiting and a cause for optimism from Eriksen.
"It's another piece of the puzzle in recruiting, and that can only help continue this wave of success our program has had," Eriksen said. "It's going in a good direction and it's going very fast right now."