Mobile County will be contributing to the University of South Alabama’s campaign for an on-campus football stadium by putting $2.5 million into an academic center for student-athletes.
The contribution will secure the naming rights to the facility, which will be called the Mobile County Center for Academic Success.
Two of three Mobile County Commissioners approved the contribution this week, though all were supportive. In a statement, Commission President Connie Hudson said the contribution was a “great opportunity to support the student-athletes in all sports at USA.”
“The 7,800-square-foot facility provides the resources for student-athletes to excel academically,” she added. “We are proud of our partnership with USA and this investment in education here in Mobile County.”
The contribution is a fraction of the combined $20 million in public money USA initially solicited from the city of Mobile and the county. Currently estimated to cost around $72 million, USA sought a contribution from the city to help pay down the debt service on construction.
However, those plans fell apart over the summer after the Mobile City Council rejected a plan submitted by Mayor Sandy Stimpson that would have seen the city contributing $500,000 per year for 20 years in exchange for the university’s help renovating and downsizing Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Since then, USA has unveiled a major fundraising effort called Get On Campus and is currently offering “investment opportunities” to public and private entities that want to fund specific components of the stadium’s construction.
With its $2.5 million contribution, Mobile County became USA’s largest investor so far.
Despite the fundraising hurdles, USA President Tony Waldrop said the stadium is still on track to open in time for the Jaguars’ 2020 football season. He said USA remains engaged with other potential investors and hopes the county’s contribution will motivate others.
“I think it’s a positive sign the commissioners have agreed to support this,” Waldrop said following the vote. “This is really supporting the scholar part of the scholar-athlete, and many of those students that will be studying in this facility come from Mobile County.”
USA Athletics Director Joel Erdmann told reporters the center will “centralize all academic support services” in one place and will include space for counselors’ offices, study areas, computer labs, tutoring rooms for individuals and study groups.
While it will be housed in the new football stadium, the Mobile County Center for Academic Success will be open to all of the 400-plus student-athletes in all 17 Division I sports at USA.
“It’s a statement about how we value academics in our athletic department,” Erdmann said. “We want to make the proper impression and declare what our priorities are.”
While the contribution will go toward an athletic facility, Commissioner Merceria Ludgood said, “for many students, athletics is their path to higher education and, ultimately, self-sufficiency.”
“USA’s commitment to its student-athletes provides educational opportunities to our entire region and beyond,” Ludgood added. “The county’s contribution is an investment in the young adults who will lead our community.”
Since it launched Aug. 31, USA’s Get on Campus initiative has raised more than $314,000 from 155 donors. Erdmann also encourages all of “Jaguar Nation” to stay informed and engaged with USA’s efforts to build its first on-campus stadium and to support it “at whatever level they can.”
More information about those fundraising efforts can be found at getoncampus.com.
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