With each passing day, South Alabama moves closer to turning what was once just a dream into reality, a new on-campus football stadium. The Jaguars plan to have their new facility operational by 2020. CollegeAD recently had the opportunity to discuss the new on-campus stadium, including funding, timeline, and why the stadium is so important to the university with South Alabama Director of Athletics Dr. Joel Erdmann as part of our CollegeAD Conversation series.
CollegeAD: 2020 is still the goal for a new stadium, why is it so important to have an on-campus stadium not only for the football program, but for the school, and athletic department?
Joel Erdmann: The day we gave birth to football ten years ago, the most frequent question at any public engagement was, when are you going to be on campus? That has been something we’ve been working towards the entire time, more in a strategic and purposeful way the last four-five years and we’ve really picked up some momentum in the past 12-18 months. We’re excited and looking forward to 2020.
CollegeAD: You talk about momentum, South Alabama withstood a big blow when the Mobile City Council opted against a $10 million partnership, yet you and school president Dr. Tony Waldrop decided to keep moving forward, what was the driving factor behind that decision?
Joel Erdmann: The stadium is too important to the university and in my opinion, too important to the city of Mobile to not have a new stadium on campus. So despite the city council’s decision to not financially support the stadium, we decided we were going to do it. We’ve had to change course a little bit, but we’re increasing our public giving and people have responded in a very powerful way.
CollegeAD: You did receive a $2.5 million gift from Mobile County, how will that work?
Joel Erdmann: Within the stadium, there will be an operations/administrative building with locker rooms on the first floor, student-athlete academic services center on the second floor, and administrative offices on the top two floors. The county thought it was beneficial to put their name on and financially support the academic services center which will serve 400 student-athletes. So the county will have the naming rights to that building.
CollegeAD: Was that something you were working on prior to the city council opted not to participate in the funding of the stadium?
Joel Erdmann: Yes, over the previous 6-12 months we met with any and all public officials and described our vision and described our purpose and expressed what we thought was the value of financially supporting the project. When the city council turned down the opportunity we waited a little while and then went back and visited with the county and they were very supportive.
CollegeAD: As part of the fundraising, you’ve launched the Get On Campus Campaign. What’s the campaign’s goal, its timeline, and how is it going?
Joel Erdmann: It’s going very well, we’ve been for quite a while in a quiet phase for significant naming rights opportunities and philanthropic giving. The Get On Campus Campaign is focused towards a grassroots campaign that anybody can contribute to at any level, from $1 to $10,000 to $100,000 to millions of dollars. It gives our fans and alumni an opportunity to put their thumbprint on the stadium and it’s been very favorable.
We have benchmarks within our financial formula to manage debt services over an extended period of time and that is a combination of the amount of money we can raise whether, through philanthropic giving, naming rights, or sponsorships over a long period of time in relation to the cost of the stadium as bids are awarded.
We’ve been very fortunate to where a majority of the stadium’s cost is locked in. We don’t have a lot of variances left with the cost of the stadium. We’ve been pointing towards $75 million and we feel confident that we’re going to hit that.
As long as we keep identifying and securing private funds and we proceed with the construction within our budget, we will play on campus in 2020, and we’re very confident about that.
CollegeAD: In November of 2018, phase II of the project was approved, what does phase II entail and what does it mean for the South Alabama football program?
Joel Erdmann: What people will see is, we’ve been doing the groundwork on the stadium since August. You’ve had clearing of the land, you’ve had the footprint that is being carved out, as half of the seating is below grade and half is above grade. What phase II will do, is people will start to see the stadium coming out of the ground and reaching the sky.
CollegeAD: In addition to the new on-campus stadium that is under construction, the athletic department recently opened the Jaguar Training Center, a covered practice facility, is that an all-sport facility?
Joel Erdmann: It’s football primary but all sports and people that need it can use it. We’re very fortunate the way our campus sets up, we have an abundance of land on our campus. Our football field house which houses our locker room, coaches offices, meeting rooms, training room, and weight room. Directly adjacent to it are our practice fields, one synthetic, one grass, fixed film towers with lighting, and directly adjacent to that we built the Jaguar Training Center.
The Jaguar Training Center is a covered facility that is 140-yards long, has the width of a full football field and has an apex of 65-feet, 48-feet at the sidelines and the stadium will be directly adjacent to that. So all within a few hundred yards of each other we will have a very recruitable football complex.
CollegeAD: How important is the completion of the stadium to solidifying South Alabama football and helping the university itself?
Joel Erdmann: It’s known as a football stadium but it’s really a statement of the progression of the University of South Alabama. Over the past ten years, our enrollment has climbed, our on-campus population has grown, we have achieved and continue to achieve what’s perceived as a traditional campus environment of which one of the crowning achievements will be a great on-campus college football gameday. Complete with tailgating festivities, student groups, faculty, alumni, and community. Rather than 20,000 people going to a stadium that is 10-miles from our campus, they will come to our campus which is really a beautiful place and find their sports where they want to enjoy festivities before a game and that will become a generational tradition.
Yes, it is a football stadium and we’re going to play football in it, but what goes in and around that football game and how it impacts the university and our community is really the driving force.