USF moves forward with 'longtime vision' for on-campus football stadium

Kelly said the university could have the stadium open for fans by the start of the 2026 football season.

The University of South Florida is sharpening a plan to build an on-campus football stadium that would culminate what the school calls a “longtime vision for the university community.”

The USF football team has played its home games in Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since 1998. The relatively young football program launched in 1996.

The USF Board of Trustees discussed the plan at a meeting Tuesday as it works toward determining the scope, location and budget for a stadium on the university’s main Tampa campus by June 30.

Michael Kelly, USF’s vice president of intercollegiate athletics, told the trustees about various “pros and cons” the university is mulling as it considers five possible locations on the 1,500-acre Tampa campus, which is already home to 244 university buildings.

“Finding things to be the best thing for the overall experience, for being close to student housing, being the right gameday experience and provide the right operational efficiencies on a daily basis for a facility that we want to use much more than obviously just six or seven times a year,” Kelly said of the criteria for a potential site, “which is what’s going to be paramount as we build the scope of this overall project.”

Kelly told the trustees that a final funding plan for the stadium will be key to cementing a timeline on its expected completion and that new stadiums can cost from $250 million to $400 million.

The university has convened a stadium planning committee and contracted with a firm to refresh a market and feasibility study that the school commissioned about four years ago.

Kelly said that if “we took an aggressive track and everything fell into place,” the university could have the stadium open for fans by the start of the 2026 football season.

“But obviously, so many things (are) in the air, and ‘27 and ‘28 would potentially be kind of in the realm of that mix,” Kelly said.

The plan to build an on-campus stadium has been generating buzz since trustees Chairman Will Weatherford first publicly announced it in September.

Weatherford, a former speaker of the Florida House, was appointed to the USF board by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January. He told trustees Tuesday that building a stadium would represent an opportunity to make USF more enticing for students and to keep alumni connected to the school.

“The idea behind an on-campus stadium is bigger than football. Certainly it will have an impact on our football program and what we’re building there,” Weatherford said. “But, in all truth, the stadium is about building an on-campus experience. It’s about the students. It’s about giving the alumni an added reason to come back and experience this campus once again with their kids and their grandkids.”
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