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Stadium plans move forward, trustees show support of site recommendation

The plan for Sycamore Fields would include tailgating and community gathering areas around the stadium for fans. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF

The recommendation of an on-campus stadium location as well as an update on the planning process was supported by the Board of Trustees (BOT) on Tuesday, signaling the process is moving forward.

While there was no opposition for the preference of Sycamore Fields as the site, a decision won’t be finalized until the June BOT meeting.

One thing set in stone is a $5 million donation from Frank and Carol Morsani with the intention to influence others in the Tampa Bay area to contribute to the project.

“They were part of that initial group that helped get football to USF over 25, 26 years ago, but they see the value of what this can bring to our athletic program,” Vice President of Advancement and Alumni Affairs Jay Stroman said.

“More importantly, they know how this can be transformative for the entire university.”

The Morsani’s have donated to USF Athletics in the past, such as $3 million in 2006 for the football complex which was named after Frank.

Their donation, as well as the committee’s efforts to get the stadium done, solidified for BOT Chair Will Weatherford the future of an on-campus stadium.

“Every time that I look at this stadium as an opportunity for us, not only do I get more excited, but I become a stronger believer that it’s doable, and we can do this,” he said. “It’s right there for us.

“It’s all starting to come to fruition.”

Stroman said the committee hoped for a sign of agreement from the trustees at the meeting so they can direct their attention to one site.

Weatherford expressed his support for the location and the opportunities it could bring. He said the plan presented could create a sense of community for students and alumni with the tailgating and gathering areas surrounding the facility.

“It’s not just about the brick and mortar of the stadium, but it’s everything around it,” Weatherford said. “It’s the excitement, it’s getting the community that wants to come here, yes to watch football, but for a lot of other events and a lot of other activities.”

A lot of work would need to be done to the surrounding areas, according to Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly, but the game-day experience it would bring will be worth it.

He said the forested area north of the fields would be used, especially the paths that make up the World Trail as well as the space between the tennis courts and Track and Field Stadium to serve as an entrance to the stadium for the team.

“I think keeping those existing paths already there creates a unique opportunity and then … maybe creating another path that kind of still creates an awesome walkway into the campus,” Kelly said.

Looking at the plan, Trustee Melissa Seixas appreciated the shaded tailgating area, and joked that BOT Vice Chair Mike Griffin is already planning his spot. The area would also create an opportunity for community engagement due to its proximity to the public, according to Seixas.

“I think it’s a great, great window for all of us to make sure that the surrounding community, if they never really engaged in football here at USF because they didn’t want to go to [Raymond James Stadium], that this is … a positive experience for them as we’ll have this right across the street,” Seixas said.

Kelly also emphasized the historical value Sycamore Fields holds within the football program. The team’s first practice over 25 years ago was held at Sycamore, and for the 10 years following.

“The fact that the original blood, sweat and tears that was the birth of this program could be the ultimate final home for us for our own [stadium] is a really awesome, historically fitting tie,” he said.

The stadium would be located north of the current football practice fields and a close walk from lots of on-campus student housing and the Greek Village. However, having a stadium within the Athletics District and next to the indoor practice facility is what makes the location desirable, according to Kelly.

“This site will create what I think is one of the finest athletic districts in all the country,” he said.

“To have a major stadium … in the same frame where our tennis facility is, where our track facility is, with where our Yuengling Center is and to have that type of concise look for it is really taking advantage of the relative youth of our university.”

The committee presented two timelines for the stadium’s completion, one for 2026 and the other for 2027. Kelly said the committee will try its best to meet the 2026 deadline, but 2027 is still being considered and is a possibility if more time is needed to plan.

The financial model could also impact the timeline, according to Kelly. The committee is working on it and it will be presented when it meets next with the trustees for site approval.

Weatherford has a preference for 2026 since he said USF can’t wait any longer to get it done.

“I know that 2026 timeline scares people,” he said. “It’s very aggressive, but I don’t think we can’t wait. I think the student body deserves the experience. I think the alumni deserve the experience.

“I hope that we can find a way to do that and that sense of urgency remains.”