Hancock Whitney Stadium. Courtesy University of South Alabama.
It was 2009, and the University of South Alabama (USA) fielded its first football team. The Jaguars beat Hargrave Military Academy 30-13 in that initial outing at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Since that game inside the historic structure on Virginia Street, USA has produced an impressive 44-25 record at home. However, the trips from the campus in West Mobile were not always a welcome excursion.
Joey Jones, the Mobile native who served as the first head coach, once said it was like always playing an away game. Even though it was still in the city, buses and trucks were required to transport the team, equipment, band, cheerleaders, students and fans to the Midtown facility. Then everything was reloaded for the trip back to campus.
This all began to change two years ago. After a failed campaign by Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson to gain support for funding an on-campus stadium, the USA Board of Trustees voted on Nov. 10, 2018, to authorize the construction of a 25,000-seat structure.
The mission will be completed Saturday at 6 p.m. when Tulane visits for the inaugural game at Hancock Whitney Stadium. It will be the first time the Jaguars and Green Wave have played since USA picked up a 41-39 win in New Orleans in 2013.
“The impact of having a home football game on campus is immeasurable,” Dr. Joel Erdmann, USA’s director of athletics, told Lagniappe. “The ability to have fans come to campus and enjoy a top-shelf customer experience in a new, state-of-the-art stadium will have positive ripples effects for decades to come.
“This is a game-changer for the football program, our department, our university and our community.”
The stadium’s estimated cost was $74 million. Funding and debt service on bonded indebtedness incurred to construct the stadium will come from a combination of the athletic department, auxiliary enterprises and public/private funding. USA said the stadium will not be funded by tuition or student fees.
USA announced a $2.5 million sponsorship from the Mobile County Commission, which will create the Mobile County Center for Academic Success inside the stadium’s administration building. This will be a 7,800-square-foot space with counselor offices, study areas, computers with unlimited printing, tutor rooms, and individual and group study rooms. The space will serve more than 400 student-athletes from all 17 Division I sports at USA.
USA said the facility will be named Hancock Whitney Stadium in recognition of a new, comprehensive financial partnership between the bank and the university.
School officials also said Hargrove Engineers + Constructors committed $1.5 million to the project. As a result, the club level at the stadium will be named The Hargrove Club.
Abraham A. Mitchell Field is named in recognition of a $5 million commitment from the Mitchell family structured as a challenge gift — any donation to the stadium project from a minimum of $500 to a maximum of $250,000 per donor will be matched on a one-to-one basis — that will facilitate additional donations to Hancock Whitney Stadium.
The stadium is located on the west side of campus, adjacent to the Jaguar Training Center, football field house and practice fields. It includes a state-of-the-art video board and sound system; the Michelob Ultra Terrace, named in recognition of a $1 million gift from Budweiser-Busch Distributing Co.; 16-seat suites; a club level with 800 seats; and premier chair-back and bench-back seating options. The facility can also be set up to host concerts.
Erdmann recently sent out a letter to Jaguar football season ticket holders. It included the following statement:
“The 2020 football season is upon us and we look forward to seeing you soon. We are excited to open Hancock Whitney Stadium on September 12, 2020, against the Tulane Green Wave. Please allow us this opportunity to update you on the status of Hancock Whitney Stadium’s seating capacity in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“At this time, we will allow attendance which reflects approximately 25 percent of Hancock Whitney Stadium’s total capacity. This percentage of capacity allows for social distancing between groups of seats. These groups of seats will not be greater than five.
“Other specific areas within Hancock Whitney Stadium will be managed as follows:
- Suites will be limited to 10 people with no visitors;
- The Hargrove Club will also be capped at 25 percent capacity with proper social distancing between club seats;
- The number of loges available will be adjusted from 42 to 28; and
- Screening and temperature checks will be required for entry to the Hargrove Club and suites.
“Additionally, the following guidelines for all spectators will exist:
- Facemasks will be worn at all times while in Hancock Whitney Stadium with the exception of when eating or drinking;
- Spectators will be required to occupy their assigned seats and not cluster in unassigned seating areas;
- Concessions and catering will be modified according to public health recommendations and will be a cashless system;
- Proper queuing and distancing will be required in common areas, such as concessions stands and restrooms;
- No tailgating will be allowed in the month of September; this will be reevaluated as we approach the month of October (a. This prohibits tents, tables and chairs);
- RV parking will be allowed; and
- Gates of entry and egress will be assigned according to seat location.”
Erdmann has announced USA has come to an agreement with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) on a future two-game football series. The Jaguars and Blazers will meet at Hancock Whitney Stadium on Sept. 14, 2030, with the second contest coming at Protective Stadium in Birmingham on September 6 the next year. It is the second two-game contract between the schools, as South and UAB met in Birmingham last September and are scheduled to play in Mobile on September 26 this fall.
Erdmann has also announced the Jaguar football team will play a pair of future games against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs will come to Mobile Sept. 24, 2022, while the Jags will go to Ruston Sept. 25, 2027. The schools first played a home-and-home series in 2017 and 2018, with the second matchup marking the debut of current USA head coach Steve Campbell.
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