Why USF won’t follow UCF’s lead on a campus stadium

Even in the heart of football country, money matters — and a new stadium costs loads of it.

USF’s new president, Steve Currall, dealt a dose of reality last week to football fans hoping for a new on-campus stadium.

Currall was lukewarm at best about the potential of a new home, saying a football stadium was “a vision … not a plan,” in comments detailed by the Tampa Bay Times’ Matt Baker and Megan Reeves.

That’s because, even in the heart of football country, money matters — and a new stadium costs loads of it.

Baker’s Monday article triggered a predictable cycle of chuckles from the UCF Mafia on Twitter. But Knights fans should check themselves — Currall isn’t wrong in how he’s playing the hand he’s been dealt, even if it means many more years playing nearly a dozen miles from campus.

It’s easy for UCF fans to throw stones when they’re enjoying a historic run on the gridiron, filling their 44,000-seat on-campus stadium every Saturday. And the Bulls, who once surged to No. 2 in the nation in 2007 and filled the majority of Raymond James Stadium for a good five years, have fallen on tough times.

Yet the two schools are remarkably close on the scoreboard that most university presidents really care about: finances.

Neither UCF nor USF is in great shape when it comes to their athletics budget, as they strain to keep pace with teams in high-revenue conferences. Both the Knights and the Bulls balance their budgets on the backs of students, as well as general alumni donations, that might otherwise fund academics, to close their remaining budget deficits.

UCF is moving in the right direction by growing its booster donations, season ticket base, and game-day revenues, as it’s “if you build it, they will come” approach toward an on-campus stadium has been slowly working. But the debt payments on Spectrum Stadium have limited the financial impact of the team’s recent success.

USF has similar goals to boost revenue through attendance and donor growth, but instead of using a new stadium to advance their efforts, USF is risking its future with a page out of its old playbook: trying to reignite its base with upsets over ranked teams.

The Bulls have agreed to a series of 2-for-1 series with top programs, such as Alabama and Texas, where USF will play its bigger, wealthier opponents twice on the road in exchange for just a single game at home. USF, hoping to one day join those foes in a high-revenue conference, sees the short-term price well worth the potential long-term payoff.

UCF Nation absolutely hates USF for it.

Knights fans, as well as their athletic director, have been critical of 2-for-1 series, saying they shouldn’t have to make a sacrifice to play high-revenue teams. Many have suggested USF should be above it too.

Each school has a right to its own strategy, but at the end of the day, they each need to find a way to boost their revenues … significantly. The risk of not doing so has been realized by UConn, which will leave the American Athletic Conference in 2020 for what it hopes are greener ($$) pastures in the Big East.

USF’s new president knows this. He knows money rules in college sports. He also knows building stadiums isn’t necessarily the best way to make money.

“I was just talking to the commissioner of the AAC (last week) on the phone about a number of topics, but they all always involve TV rights … that, frankly, has a big financial impact,” Currall said, according to Monday’s Times article.

That’s why you’re more likely to see USF change its coaches, conference, or even logo before you see it change its home football stadium.

Noah Pransky

Noah Pransky is a multiple award-winning investigative reporter, most recently with the CBS affiliate in Tampa. He’s uncovered major stories such as uncovering backroom deals in the Tampa Bay Rays stadium and other political investigations. Pransky also ran a blog called Shadow of the Stadium, giving readers a deep dive into the details of potential financial deals and other happenings involving the Tampa Bay- area sports business.


  • Richard

    July 9, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Don’t assume all UCF fans are ridiculing USF’a current situation. These schools are tied at the hip in a conference that is struggling for a larger share of the college football market. As for Danny White, he’s doing what he needs to do to enhance UCF’s position. Nothing could be better for both these schools then for the American conference to be stronger on the field. As a UCF fan, if they can’t win the conference and get into a New Years six Bowl, then I hope its USF.

  • Todd

    July 9, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Agree with the author that the new president is logically and appropriately playing the cards he’s been dealt. And agree with Richard that these two teams should be attractive to any conference but together, a huge addition. But what’s missing is the perspective of history and decisions made by predecessor presidents. 10 years ago, UCF put its energy into investing in its future. First, a respected head coach with a solid reputation. Then, an on campus stadium that rewarded the students who are the biggest financial supporters of the program. USFs energy was channeled into keeping UCF out of their conference. You be the judge on which strategy has been the more successful.

  • Bryan J Smith

    July 9, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Ummm, UCFAA, Inc.’s budget only has an ever shrinking minority of its funds from Athletic Fees, under 30% now, and stopped using taxpayer dollars years ago. Even UCFAA, Inc.’s only public employee, it’s AD — who remains a VP at UCF for accountability reasons — gets the supermajority of his revenue from UCFAA, Inc., not the taxpayer.

    Any other G5, and a number of P5s, would love to have UCF’s budget — especially when the TV revenue is removed, let alone when the Athletic Fees are as well (Ohio University anyone?).

    Meanwhile, USF has been raiding their non-academic donor coffers, as well as the taxpayer, in addition to even higher Athletic Fees per hour than UCF, which doesn’t cover the shortfall. USF should have built a stadium when UCF did, and UCF fans only want USF fans to admit that is the case … fiscally. But USF fans won’t, so UCF fans will continue to make fun of them until the do … especially now that UCF has more season ticket holders than FSU, while not giving them away like USF does.

    USF fans even keep talking about getting smaller, FAU-like stadium, which is the ultimate irony. I.e., comments like “Not like UCF’s, but like FAU’s” … when FAU’s is based on UCF’s — from the Stadium to the Athletic Village. That’s the ultimate level of denial and envy.

    UCFAA, Inc. has a very sustainable business model, including owning quite a bit of capex, beyond the opex, and in full control … even as the City of Orlando and Florida Citrus Sports undermine it, who are actually taxpayer funded, unlike UCFAA, Inc.

    It’s time to stop comparing UCF and USF. And it’s time to stop talking about how USF was ranked #2 for 1 week — especially considering the abuse of hardship waivers and a graduation rate <10%. 14 years in conferences, and 0 titles. UCF has actually finished multiple seasons ranked in the top 10, and have won 2 out of 3 NY Bowls against teams ranked #5-7.

    Even USF's entry into the Big East was an unearned joke, with their basketball team being the doormat, while UCF offered to join football-only back in the early '00s — the whole reason why the Catholic-7 didn't want to add another team all-sports, like UCF, because USF 'stunk it up.' How many times has USF been ranked in the Top 25 in basketball for that matter?

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