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USF feels at home, for now
An on-campus stadium is a nice thought, but unlikely for some time.
By GREG AUMAN
Published October 10, 2007
Ben Moffitt scores at Raymond James Stadium, USF's home that is 12 miles from campus.
[Brian Cassella | Times]
TAMPA - USF's last opponent and its next are in different stages of on-campus stadium fever, but the Bulls remain immune.
Florida Atlantic just approved plans for a $62-million stadium in Boca Raton, and Central Florida last month proudly unveiled a $55-million stadium in Orlando.
Even as they're surrounded - geographically and on their schedule - by schools savoring that new-stadium smell, the Bulls have no immediate plans to change their renting of Raymond James Stadium, home of the Bucs, 12 miles south of campus.
"There are several programs that have had great success without an on-campus stadium," athletic director Doug Woolard said Tuesday, pointing to Southern California, Miami, UCLA and Pittsburgh. "I still think at the end of the day, that at some point, an on-campus stadium would be a real benefit, for any university, but certainly for a young university like us."
USF does have a vision - not one so focused as to command so much as an exploratory committee yet - of what Woolard sees as "six or seven Saturdays in the fall to get 70,000 people, or whatever number it is, on your campus."
The hurdles to that are largely financial, for a school that has only had football for 11 seasons and is still developing its base of fans and boosters. A proper home for the Bulls would likely cost substantially more than UCF and FAU's stadiums combined.
"If and when we build something, we'd want it to be something that meets our needs, something that would be appreciated by our fans," Woolard said.
A conservative estimate of a new stadium for a BCS-conference school such as USF would likely top $150-million, which seems high until you consider Minnesota, which will move into an on-campus stadium in 2009 at a cost of $288-million.
But the Gophers will pay for only about $86-million, with $35-million covered by a 25-year naming-rights sponsorship deal. The state is committed to paying $10.3-million a year for 25 years for the rest of the costs.
UCF has needed no taxpayer assistance, and while a few critics have called UCF's venue an "erector set starter stadium kit," citing aluminum seating, school officials couldn't be happier.
"It's very evident this was the right thing to do," said David Hansen, UCF's senior associate athletic director. "There are so many benefits to having the stadium here on campus."
Ticket sales have doubled in two years and are expected to top $5-million this year. UCF's bill on the debt service on bonds issued for the stadium isn't prohibitive, with less than $1-million due this year and no more than about $4-million in any year. Total stadium expenses account for about $7-million per year, or about 20 percent of UCF's $37-million annual athletics budget, Hansen said.
FAU's stadium, too, will be a much-needed upgrade, since the Owls currently commute 20 miles to play in Fort Lauderdale at Lockhart Stadium, a 20,000-seat municipal stadium they share with high school teams.
When USF signed its new lease at Ray-Jay this summer, it opted for only five years, with an opt-out clause that allows it to move out with two years' notice, in case of a large philanthropy. Woolard points to Oklahoma State, which has gotten $265-million for athletics from donor T. Boone Pickens Jr.
"If we had a Boone Pickens come forward, make a sizeable donation," Woolard said, "that would probably dictate the timing of any of our facilities, including football."