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Groundbreaking of indoor practice facility overshadowed by on-campus stadium discussion

Board of Trustees Chariman Will Weatherford said the USF community “deserves” an on-campus stadium. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF

USF Athletics broke ground on an indoor practice facility Wednesday, but that was quickly overshadowed by news regarding plans for an on-campus football stadium.

“[USF] is a university that’s progressing in every metric academically, and [the athletics program] is ready to take on the challenge,” Board of Trustees Chairman Will Weatherford said. “Frankly, this community, the students and the athletes, they deserve a stadium on their campus, they deserve to have it.

“We can do it, and we’re going to do it.” 

On a day when the privately-funded indoor practice facility was meant to be the main attraction, questions regarding funds and location for a stadium dominated attention.

“[Weatherford] hasn’t set a hard timeline [for the stadium],” Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly said. “There is some work to be done in terms of ground use, and where that facility goes, first and foremost. So that’s kind of undetermined at this point.”

When pressed for an exact location of a USF football stadium, Weatherford firmly denied any locations off campus. 

“The construction of the football stadium will not be north of [Fletcher Avenue], it will be on the main campus here,” he said. “We’re not considering The Claw, the golf course at all, whatsoever, 100%. I’ll say that again, we’re not going to build a football stadium north of Fletcher … It’s going to be right here on this main campus, exactly where remains to be seen.”

Weatherford was the most bullish about the prospect of a stadium of any of the speakers, which included Kelly, interim President Rhea Law, coach Jeff Scott, USF Athletics Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President and softball player Meghan Sheehan and starting center Brad Cecil.

As Kelly explained, a stadium on the Tampa campus has been a vision of Weatherford’s since he assumed the role of chairman.

“When Weatherford took over, [an on-campus stadium] was something internally he talked about as a priority for his administration,” Kelly said. “[We’re] proud of someone that has that kind of vision and support for USF athletics.”

High-level decision makers overtly referring to a potential stadium was enough to almost entirely cloud the initial reason for the gathering, the indoor practice facility.

Dozens of influential voices in the USF community attended the ceremony held at the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex. Proceedings were led by Law, just weeks into her new role.

“We’re here today to break ground on a project that reflects our focus and our commitment to our student athletes and our success for our students,” Law said. “After several years of being in the planning process, today our commitment becomes reality.”

The $22 million facility is scheduled for completion in 2022, before the football season kicks off, according to Kelly.

“This is a 10-12 month construction project,” Kelly said. “We expect to be here for a ribbon-cutting ceremony next [summer].”

Coming into the day, rumors about possible conference realignment that would potentially affect the AAC, including in-state rival UCF, sparked interest in the timing of the ceremony and subsequent stadium discussion, but one was not connected to the other, according to Scott.

“We focus on inside out,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of noise, conference realignment, all of the other [stuff], some people in our conference may be leaving and all that, we can’t control that. What I do know [is] you develop change from the inside out, and this meeting today was not a reaction to [this] stuff. This is something that’s been in place and been planned for the last several months.”

The growth and development is something Scott is happy to see, and he believes the correct leadership is in place to get the job done.

“The time is now, and I’m just excited because I know that we have the right leadership in place to take us to that next level,” Scott said.