University Of South Florida Leadership Shares Vision In Upgrading, Building Athletic Facilities

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It was clear on December 11, 2019, the day Jeff Scott was introduced as the new football coach at South Florida, that university president, Steven Currall, would make athletics an area of emphasis on a campus located within the nation’s 12th-largest television market.

Currall, who took office only five months earlier and worked closely with athletics director Michael Kelly in bringing Scott on board, including accompanying Kelly in visiting the coach at his South Carolina home, left no doubt as to his level of fervor when it comes to athletics.

“I firmly believe a strong intercollegiate athletics program holds an essential role in the advancement of a strong university,” Currall said that day, when he also spoke about the importance of cultivating a strong sense of community through athletics.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Currall’s name was referenced several times by Kelly, a former College Football Playoff executive who is very well aware the current CFP deal expires following the 2025 season, and Scott during a February 24 video conference discussing the details of renovations to the 17-year-old Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center and a new indoor performance facility. 

The projects have a combined cost of $25 million and will be financed entirely by private funds. They also represent the first of two phases of athletic-related improvements.

Within the collegiate athletic landscape Clemson is regarded as having one of the best, if not the best, facilities in the country. That is something that would not have been possible without a shared vision, something Scott appreciates after having spent 16 years at the school as a player and an assistant. It was during his time as co-offensive coordinator under Dabo Swinney that Clemson opened a $55 million football complex.

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“A big part of (what took place at Clemson) is because of the alignment in the leadership at the university, within athletics and within the football program,” he said. “I feel like that is one of the reasons why we are in this position today.”

USF lacks an indoor football facility, something that has been problematic when it comes to thunderstorms that frequently pop up during preseason camp and disrupt practice. That will change with the construction of the peformance center, which will include a football field.

“When Michael and President Currall came up to visit with me in December 2019, one of the questions I had was about facilities and plans for facilities in the future,” said Scott. “I could tell very quickly in that conversation that President Currall and Michael Kelly were committed to seeing these projects through.”

Renovations to the athletics center, at a cost of $3 million, will greatly benefit the football program in the form of meeting rooms, a new locker room and lounge. Work will begin shortly after the Bulls’ spring game, which is scheduled for March 27.

The indoor performance facility will cost $22 million and benefit the entire athletic program as well as hosting non-athletic university events. The football field will be part of the building’s 88,000 square feet. Work is slated to commence at the end of this summer with the expectation it will be completed before the 2022 fall athletic seasons ramp up.

The architectural firm is HOK, which designed the new facility at Clemson and has had a hand numerous such projects across the country. The construction manager is RR Simmons Construction, which has an office two miles from USF and has worked with the school on several athletics projects over the years. 

Kelly, who has been in his current post since June 2018, indicated that a football operations center will be part of the second phase, the timing of which has yet to be determined. Such a project was initially revealed in November 2017. However, by the time Scott was hired two years later, only roughly half of its projected cost of $40 million had been raised. 

Then the pandemic and its resulting uncertainty hit. While there was a pause in on-field athletic activity, the wheels were turning off the field with Kelly, his staff and Scott going to town in preparation for this initial phase. 

“We had a focus not only to endure the hard times that all of us are dealing with right now, but position ourselves to emerge from it with renewed vision, energy, momentum and be ready to take on a great new feature for USF athletics,” said Kelly.

That meant doing something with the funds the athletic department had and not waiting any longer to get a shovel in the ground.  

“The urgency of wanting to make something of the here-and-now for our current student-athletes, particularly coming out of the pandemic, became that much more important,” said Kelly. “That is why we revised the plan to have it go in phases.”

During the conference call Kelly reiterated something he has said in the past: he is a believer when it comes to having an on-campus stadium. That is not a priority at this time, however, as upgrading and constructing facilities for football and the other sports is what needs to be addressed.

Speaking of upgrades, the Bulls’ home field, Raymond James Stadium, undertook $160 million in upgrades the past few years leading up to Super Bowl LV. USF was not responsible for any portion of the expense. 

“There has been more invested in that facility, that we did not pay a dime for, than a facility would cost as a whole if we build an on-campus stadium,” said Kelly, noting the cost of an on-campus stadium would also be privately funded. “We have to remember to be grateful for what we have now, but that does not mean that we are not aspirational for the future. (An on-campus stadium) is a goal, but (initial phase projects) are the right steps for us now.”

These steps and potential next steps will undoubtedly make USF more appealing to recruits. They could also greatly enhance the university’s appeal with potential future conference realignment. For now, one thing is certain: sitting still was not an option.

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