University Investment in Football Charges South

Stadium planners at the University of South Alabama visited a number of schools with new stadiums, including Tulane University and Colorado State University, for design ideas.

The University of South Alabama has been fielding a college football team now for 10 years, but the field has never been on its campus in west Mobile.

That looks to finally change, as the school’s board of trustees recently charged USA President Tony Waldrop with building a campus stadium. The school’s dream house should come in at the mid-$70 million range and be ready for play by 2020.

The fourth largest four-year public university in the state will become the seventh to invest in an on-campus football stadium. USA’s team has been playing in 69-year-old, city-owned Ladd-Peebles Stadium, home of the annual Reese’s Senior Bowl. UAB, the third largest university, plays now in Legion Field but will break ground this year on a new campus stadium expected to be finished in 2021. Troy University, Alabama A&M and Alabama State all have campus stadiums.

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For USA Director of Athletics Joel Erdmann, there’s no shortage of things on the to-do list. USA promptly launched the Get On Campus campaign, an online crowd-funding effort that gives people a way to donate at any level from a few dollars to a few million. You can follow the progress on the university’s website, southalabama.edu and search for stadium fundraising. Parallel to that is a more behind-the-scenes effort to solicit major gifts based on naming opportunities, suites and other premium offerings.

The Mobile County Commission was near the front of the line with a $2.5 million commitment. “We feel comfortable with where we’re at, and we believe now that the County Commission has sparked it a bit, people will gravitate toward the project,” Erdmann says.

The school will do its own construction management for the project, led by Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Randy Moon. Using USA’s architects and craftsmen will save close to 15 percent off the top of construction, planners say.

“Now that we’ve been able to publicly declare we’re pushing the button, we’ll be shifting to sales mode very quickly,” Erdmann says. “We’ll be unrolling all the opportunities to be involved in this through winter and into the spring.”

Perhaps mindful that Mobile sports fans can sometimes be bargain-minded, planners are being sensitive to fair pricing. Erdmann says time was spent looking at other stadiums in the Sunbelt Conference and Conference USA. Jaguar football prices won’t be the most expensive or least expensive by comparison, but will offer “a quality product on a beautiful campus.”

Playing football on campus will allow for many advantages, not the least of which is welcoming visitors who may not have seen USA lately. “The fruits of this labor will go beyond my time and our time. It will mean graduates who bring children to campus, who in turn bring their children. We want to start to grow those traditions.”

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