Before a sell-out crowd of 49,212 at Tampa Stadium, the USF Bulls football program opened play on Sept. 6, 1997, with an 80-3 blowout victory over Kentucky Wesleyan. Then a year later they moved to just completed Raymond James Stadium in 1998 where they continue to play heading into this coming season but that could change with a vote later today.
The future of the University of South Florida football and its entire athletic program could very well rest on if an on campus stadium gets the final approval at a meeting set for today. In May the USF Board of Trustees Finance Committee voted unanimously to spend $140 million and take on $200 million of debt for an on-campus football stadium setting up a final vote.
The full board is now set to vote on the proposal on June 13. “The vote today shows that we are investing in athletics in a way to make a significant move forward,” USF president Rhea Law said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
According to documents USF plans to spend $140m on the project immediately through $50m in donations from the USF Foundation, $31m from the capital improvement trust fund and another $59m from the sale or expected sale of broadband equipment and licenses.
USF then intends to borrow the remaining $200m over 20 years with an estimated taxable fixed interest rate of 5.5%. The plan is for the University to service that debt, at around $17.8m per year, through new revenues generated by the stadium like ticket sales, concessions, parking and sponsorships.
Why is so important that USF get the on campus stadium?
Well at present the Bulls play in the American Athletic Conference a non Power 5 league where they get about $7 million dollars a year from the AAC media deal from ESPN. But the landscape of college football has changed dramatically over the past few years and at the moment the Bulls have been left behind.
Last year the University of Central Florida along with other AAC members Cincinnati along with Houston and independent BYU joined the Big 12 conference a Power 5 league where they will start getting around $31 million per year from a media rights deal in years to come.
An invite to either the ACC or the Big 12 are the most likely landing spots for the Bulls in 2030’s so USF has time to build on their already impressive academic profile while while sorting out their ability to regain the winning culture on the football field and the basketball court.
College sports is at an inflection point and for USF to survive they need to move up to P5 conference and an on campus stadium along with winning can get them there.