San Diego State’s new Athletic Director J.D. Wicker is moving to develop a better, new football stadium for the back-to-back Mountain West football champion Aztecs. It will be a daunting task, but Wicker entered his new job stating this challenge was his top priority.
Let’s talk Qualcomm for a minute. The stadium once known as Jack Murphy Stadium or “The Murph,” was originally opened in 1967 as an all-purpose NFL football, MLB baseball and, yes, NCAA football venue. It was designed in part with the Aztecs in mind. It was a nice stadium once upon a time- vibrant and lined with palm trees. It was the only stadium I had ever been to where I could get a fish taco.
It was also a gargantuan chunk of grey spiraling concrete with a 70,561 capacity that was seemingly impossible to fill in very active San Diego. Even with 42,473 in attendance during this fall’s game against the Golden Bears- the stadium looked half-empty, and the false perception becomes that fans are half interested.
Starbucks has taught us that nothing attracts a crowd- like a crowd. Starbucks baristas are trained to slow down their drink production to keep a long cue. People see Starbucks bustling, and it reaffirms that waiting in line to pay $6 for a latte is a GREAT IDEA, because clearly everybody agrees. A sold out sports venue is the same. It’s electrifying, and people want to be a part of it. Last year, Viejas was the #1 NCAA basketball venue in California attendance, even though it was not the biggest. So many people are there to be a part of the excitement.
Two days ago, on the Mighty 1090AM, Darren Smith checked in with J.D. Wicker six weeks into his new job. During the talk, the stadium was discussed. Smith asked Wicker about it, and Wicker replied that around January, SDSU and San Diego will have a better understanding of what the Chargers intend to do long term.
He stated that he is working with SDSU President Dr. Elliot Hirshman, as there is financial work to be done, but San Diego State wants to create a stadium that is a good atmosphere for its students and fans- like Viejas. Wicker added that the stadium could be a 30,000 seat size (while in other reports describe 40,000 seats). Ultimately, he seeks a stadium more appropriate for what SDSU needs it to be.
Wicker indicated that there has been interaction with Major League Soccer.
While not discussed specifically during the interview, SDSU has been contacting alumni with surveys about the new stadium. Those “in the know”are aware that SDSU would prefer to place the stadium on the footprint of the existing Qualcomm stadium, along with a campus expansion- hence the paralysis of awaiting news on the Chargers’ long-term plans. With a new Mission Valley campus and stadium, students could go back and forth by way of an already existing and easy-to-use light rail system. SDSU would also seek for the stadium to perform a dual role as a MLS venue.
As it looms, it’s possible the Chargers may move to L.A. Or they may stay. If they stay, they seek to construct a new stadium closer to Petco Park in the Downtown area. For now, SDSU will make use of the time for planning as they await an update.
During the Darren Smith discussion, Smith also asked Wicker about where SDSU stood to compete with P5 programs like Pac-12 schools, and how things were with the P5-G5 gap, noting the gap doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. He asked how the Aztecs could remain competitive when P5’s like Pac-12 and Big 12 are raking in all the dough. Wicker eluded that it was a challenge but you can’t let that define you, adding that a lot of athletes want to come to San Diego to compete for the Aztecs.
Wicker mentioned that since the ’12-’13 campaign launched by his predecessor Jim Sterk and Dr. Hirshman, the Aztecs have won 33 team conference championships. He also mentioned that SDSU’s academic resume is rising. He added that Aztecs basketball rivals existing P5 basketball venues, and that a new, better football stadium would provide additional revenue and also serve as an additional recruiting tool.
It’s encouraging to hear that the stadium project is a top priority. It might be wise for San Diego State to keep an alternate footprint in mind, in case the Chargers return and shock the world with no plans to do anything.
Reading between the lines, though, it does sound like San Diego State is positioning itself to continue to be competitive with Power 5 programs, and Wicker did say that SDSU’s resume is rising.
Resume. . . interesting choice of words.