Charlie Strong made what amounted to a promise during the press conference in which he was officially introduced as the new head coach of the USF Bulls on Thursday.
It’s a promise no coach at USF has made before and one that Strong’s new bosses will likely have to keep if they hope to keep Strong around beyond the scope of his current five-year contract.
Near the end of his address Strong went beyond wishing and hoping for an on-campus stadium for his new team and flat out said such a facility will indeed be built, presumably during his tenure.
“I feel like once you get a stadium on campus it’s (the players) home, it’s what they defend, it’s their house and that’s going to be critical and that’s going to happen,” Strong said.
Strong no sooner said that than all eyes began to scan the room for USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan, who surprised many when he said USF is indeed well down the road toward fulfilling that promise.
“We are in the middle of a study right now looking at the various options on campus,’’ Harlan said. “We understand that is a very important part of where this program needs to go and we are going to continue to aggressively check into it and try to get one done.”
They need to try hard to get one done. The Bulls may one day grow into a program big enough to play in the big house on Dale Mabry that is Raymond James Stadium but they’re not there yet.
The atmosphere that often makes college football so enjoyable is lost at RJS, where the Tampa Sports Authority reports that the Bulls drew an average of 27,887 fans per game this season. This despite USF having it’s best regular season ever at 10-2.
That crowd number is not bad, especially for a still fledgling program like USF, but it’s a third of what RJS holds, which is something Harlan should keep in mind as he pursues an on-campus facility.
The Bulls can hope that one day they rise to the level where they can fill a 65,000-seat stadium but they’re not there yet, in part because student involvement in the program is still very low.
USF is one of the biggest schools in the state but so many of the students that attend are commuters and simply aren’t around for weekend events such as football games.
That and the cost of building a stadium suggests USF may not want to think big in terms of an on-campus facility but rather think along the lines of a facility that will hold 35,000-40,000 fans.
That will put a bit of a premium on the tickets for USF games and it will also help create the atmosphere that often makes college football so enjoyable and that the Bulls need to make their game more of an event and destination for all Tampa Bay area football fans.
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