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The Time is Now for AAC Schools To Build On-Campus Stadiums

USF, Temple, and even Memphis continue to play their games off campus in rented stadiums. In the changing landscape, that needs to end now.

NCAA Football: Temple at South Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Friday, and truly the entire week leading up to the Friday that Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF were invited to the Big 12 was a major blow to a lot of the remaining programs in the American Athletic Conference. For one program in particular, this came out of almost nowhere, even though they should have seen it coming.

USF made it to the Big East when the Big East was the dominant basketball conference and a BCS automatic qualifier, despite being an infant of a football program. Then, they sat back and did nothing.

They watched UCF, then transitioning from the MAC to Conference USA, build an indoor practice facility. They saw Miami struggle due to its lack of facilities, while Florida lost recruiting ground to its SEC rivals due to facilities. They saw UCF build an on-campus stadium, while they played in the rented out Raymond James Stadium. Did they react, saying, “Maybe we need one of those?” No. They laughed and said it wasn’t good enough.

The only thing USF has done of any athletic significance since joining the Big East is to be ranked number 2 for one week (and finish the season unranked), and be the reason the Big East ended.

In 2012, ESPN offered the Big East a 9 year, $1.4 billion media deal. The condition was that TCU and one UCF join the Big East. At eleven schools, this would have resulted in about $14 million annually from their media rights, and they’d now be on their second contract. USF couldn’t be on equal footing with UCF, so they blocked it.

Big East football collapsed. UCF joined what would become the AAC anyways, and the second media contract for the AAC would only be worth about $7 million annually for each school.

So, on the week that USF finally broke ground on their indoor practice facility, three member schools, including their biggest rival moved on to the Big 12. It was a shock to the system, and this could be seen in several great articles written on The Daily Stampede like this and this. Even more disturbing, Will Weatherford used the indoor practice facility groundbreaking to announce the intent to build an on campus stadium. He did so, it seems pretty clearly, with absolutely no plan and seemingly in the spur of the moment. He did so out of angst and anger. There is no money for an on-campus stadium, there is no real plan, just more dreams.

And he was completely right. USF still desperately needs an on-campus stadium. It may be too little too late to get in on this round of realignment, but it’s clear on-campus stadiums help programs grow, build fanbases, and create experiences. They get alumni and future generations of students to campus, and they’re easier for students to get to on game day. They may not be as big, and the seats might not all have two cupholders, but they’re more intimate, proud, loud, and cherished. They, along with all the rest of your facilities, also show a commitment to football and athletics on the whole.

USF and UCF are two remarkably similar institutions. One showed the effort, and built a program. The other did not. Now, one is in the Big 12.

It’s not fair to single out USF, though. Their issues are well documented. However, there is another school still playing in an empty, joyless, NFL stadium that they owe rent on. Temple plays at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s typically empty and sad, even when they’re winning games. Oftentimes, the Eagles logo and end zone paint is what they play on, making every home game feel like a bad neutral site game.

Temple knows the issue, and they know that it has held the program back. They have come up with plans for an on-campus stadium, but those have been met largely with apathy from the community. This made it difficult to raise the funds for a new stadium that would cost well about $130 million. Planning pitches have been stymied. The project has largely been shut down.

Now, if Temple wants to step up and be the most they can be, it’s clear that they need their own stadium. Otherwise, they run the risk of sliding down the flagpole. They run the risk of not being able to keep up in recruiting, if only because players want a better game day experience.

Even Memphis, with all their recent success and a really good game day atmosphere at the Liberty Bowl could do better by being on-campus. For one, an on-campus stadium would not be run down like the Liberty Bowl. Second, a very good Memphis program got ignored in conference realignment, largely due to its facilities.

So, if you want to make your program viable in the next round of realignment, which the Big 12 is thought to be a part of, then you need an on-campus stadium. If you just want to have a better atmosphere and experience, you need an on-campus stadium. If you want to build a better football program, bring money into the school, and invest in your university’s future, you need an on-campus football stadium.

It’s time for AAC teams without these types of facilities to start investing. Stop pretending comfy and unused chairs are better than bleachers. Better yet, build an on-campus stadium with comfy chairs.