For several years, a popular question around the University of South Alabama campus was, “when will the school start a football program?” In 2007, when the board of trustees announced the university would, indeed, field a football team, a second question gained popularity: “When will it an on-campus football stadium?”
According to a news release today, an answer to the question may be forthcoming. In a statement, USA president Tony Waldrop said the university is embarking on a “preliminary exploration of the financial, logistical and infrastructural requirements associated with the possible construction of an on-campus football stadium.”
The subject has been discussed, dissected and debated among the South Alabama community, as well as the Mobile Bay area, since the Jaguars decided to add football to its list of intercollegiate sports. Some have called for quick action in building a stadium on campus while others have voiced opposition to such a plan, stating the Jags’ current home, the city of Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium, serves the team’s needs.
While the announcement is not surprising, based on the popularity of the subject, it does serve as the university’s first official announcement that the possibility of building an on-campus home for football is being actively discussed.
Waldrop noted the process will not be rushed and emphasized a decision on whether or not to build an on-campus football stadium has not been made at this time.
“Construction of a football stadium is an extremely complex undertaking that requires significant due diligence on the part of the university leadership, and we are at the very beginning of a process that will examine all the issues we must consider before a decision can be made,” Waldrop said.
The first steps in the process will involve a small group of USA trustees, administrators and staff looking into three areas outlined by Waldrop. The group will examine all issues impacting the feasibility of an on-campus stadium, and will present its findings to the school’s leadership for consideration. The university will release information on the group’s progress, but there is no set schedule or deadline for completing the study.
“What this means is it’s a beginning,’’ South Alabama director of athletics Dr. Joel Erdmann told Lagniappe. “It’s a very complex topic with a lot of pieces and dynamics and it’s just announcing that we’re going to look at this thing and look at it the best that we can.
“We’re heading down uncharted territory and we’re dealing with many different constituent groups, so I think it’s wise to have it open-ended in terms of a time frame so we can study it appropriately.”
While Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn are arguably the state’s most widely-regarded college football venues with capacities of 101,821 and 87,451 respectively, South Alabama would likely require a much smaller facility. Still, modern football stadiums with even moderate seating can be expensive.
Alabama State University in Montgomery built an on-campus stadium that opened on Nov. 22, 2012 for the annual Turkey Day Classic game between the Hornets and Tuskegee University. The stadium was built for $62 million and seats 26,500. Tulane University in New Orleans, which previously played its home games in the Superdome, opened Yulman Stadium on Sept. 6 of last season. It cost $72 million to build and seats 30,000.
Troy University has plans to expand Veterans Memorial Stadium. The school’s north end zone expansion will include luxury boxes, locker room, meeting rooms, coaches’ offices, weight room, academic center, recruiting lounge and a T-Club room, among other extras. It is estimated the expansion with cost approximately $28 million.
In previous reports about an on-campus stadium at South Alabama, it has been suggested such a facility would initially seat no more than 30,000 fans, with the ability to add more seats in the future if needed. It is more likely the initial seating capacity would be between 25,000 and 28,000 seats. In the Sun Belt Conference, of which South Alabama is a member, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Cajun Field seats 31,000 fans and is the largest on-campus stadium in the league. Georgia State plays its home games in the Georgia Dome, but only the lower portion of the bowl is available for GSU games, an area that seats 28,155. The smallest stadium in the league is the Kibbie Dome, where football-only member Idaho plays its home games. It seats 16,000. Troy’s Veterans Memorial Stadium seats 30,000. Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the Jags’ home for now, seats 40,646. It was dedicated in 1948.
One of the biggest questions concerning a stadium on the South Alabama campus centers around where it would be located. Some favor placing it where the current track is located, off Old Shell Road, between Stanky Field (baseball) and the Mitchell Center (basketball arena). That location would require re-building the track elsewhere on campus, as well as the softball and soccer fields, which rest between the track and Stanky Field. The school recently upgraded the track and softball complexes.
Another possibility would be where the current intramural fields are located. This area is favored because it is close to fraternity and sorority houses as well as dorms, which would make it easy for students to attend games. It would also place the stadium near the team’s fieldhouse and practice fields, which sit on the hill above the intramural fields. Many believe this location would also lend itself to better and more road access (some of it new or enhanced) for fans traveling to and from the stadium.
Erdmann said that while there may be pressure from outside the university to make a quick decision on whether or not to build it’s own stadium, the discussion will not distract those who will be charged with making the decision from doing their due diligence.
“We will make sure this topic is being studied as deeply and as soundly as we can,” Erdmann added.
“I think it’s fair to say that this has been a topic since football has been announced and we have gone six years down the road from there,’’ Erdmann said when asked why now was considered the right time to look into the possibility. “During that time the discussions about it, informal in nature, were ever-present. I think just the accumulation of that along with some sincere discussion and thought led to (the decision that) it’s a good time to look at this.’’
Head football coach Joey Jones said he’s happy to hear the university is looking into the possibility of building an on-campus home for the Jags’ team.
“It’s something that obviously is very exciting news for our university’s football program and the city of Mobile,’’ Jones said. “We’ve got some things to work through and it’s certainly not on the table yet, but this announcement is something that we’ve been waiting on for a long time and we’ll see where it goes from here.’’
The press release noted the university will provide additional updates as the process moves forward.
South Alabama, which is entering its seventh season this year, opens its season on Sat., Jan. 5 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium against Gardner-Webb. The Jags are coming off a 6-7 season in which they earned their first-ever bowl invitation, playing in the inaugural Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl last December. The Jags lost to Bowling Green in the game.
Updated to include information regarding sizes and costs of various collegiate football stadiums, as well as speculation about a location on South Alabama’s campus.