San Diego State football, despite its success, might be homeless in two years
With the Chargers moving to Los Angeles, the Aztecs now need to find a new home -- fast
SAN DIEGO -- In the center of this sun-splashed Southern California city is a battle for the soul of college football.
Let's put it is this way: No matter what its level of funding or success, every FBS program in the country pretty much knows where it's going to be playing two years from now.
San Diego State? Not so much.
The two-time defending Mountain West champions have until 2019 to find a new home. The Aztecs' current contract with Qualcomm Stadium -- former home of the Los Angeles-bound Chargers -- ends after next season.
After that it's a negotiation -- whether the team can perhaps move to the Padres' Petco Park for a season in 2019. It's also question of whether the school can negotiate with the city for a move back to Qualcomm beginning in 2020.
Two years from now -- one former Power Five official suggested -- San Diego State is "in no man's land."
The program's plight is the latest example of the gap between those well-resourced Power Fives and everyone else. Last year, we showed you pictures of. SDSU coach Rocky Long said he didn't show recruits the game day locker rooms in Qualcomm.
"I don't worry about it because I have no control over it," Long said as the Mountain West Media Days continued Wednesday in Las Vegas. "I do have confidence in it, that something is going to get done."
There are massive complexities involved with recruiting. But only one school is having trouble answering this question from parents and recruits: Where are you playing in 2020?
"We've been asked that," athletic director J.D. Wicker said.
"I told them," Long added, "I think it's all going to work out."
The program that gave us Don Coryell, Marshall Faulk, even John Madden (defensive coordinator, 1964-66) is at a crossroads.
On the field, it is a contender for that New Year's Six bowl golden ticket. Off of it, it's almost impossible to build an on-campus stadium. There's just no room. The 5-mile distance from San Diego State to Qualcomm might as well be 50 miles.
A complicated real estate deal stands in the middle.
With the Chargers gone, the 166-acre plot of Mission Valley land Qualcomm sits on has become one of the most valuable pieces of property in Southern California.
"Most valuable in the West," Wicker countered.
It's worth approximately $13 million per acre, according to FS Investors, the group that wants to develop the land.
At issue is whether the school would partner with those investors on a $150 million-$200 million combined-use stadium that would be shared with a professional soccer team.
Plans show a couple of office buildings at one end of that stadium, limiting possible expansion plans at a later date. And then there is a European-style canopy covering the stands that would make the ability to expand "up" cost prohibitive.
Crossroads? San Diego State pitched itself last year as a Big 12 expansion member. Among other things, it's not a geographic fit. Academics probably keep it out of any Pac-12 plans. The league is already in Southern California.
No one can argue against Long's impact in America's Finest City. The 67-year-old has won 54 games in six seasons, dipping below eight wins only once. There are only four teams nationally the last two seasons that have won more games than the Aztecs' 22.
Donnel Pumphrey just became the NCAA's career rushing leader --. As for challenging itself, San Diego State plays eight Pac-12 schools between now and 2024.
"Seven straight years in bowl games," Wicker said. "Two straight conference championships. With the Chargers being gone, we're the premier football team in town."
That was the thought, at least: The contentious and emotional loss of Chargers would focus attention on the Aztecs. The city would have to pay attention to what is now its second-biggest sports franchise next to the Padres.
But sports aren't always the No. 1 priority in this town with 300-plus days of sunshine per year. San Diego was madly in love with the Chargers, but the beach is there every day.
San Diego State has fought mightily to shed its party school reputation. Then Steve Fisher came along. The former Michigan basketball coach made the Aztecs a national program.
And we all know what successful athletics can do to enrollment. Ask Alabama.
"Football drives the revenue and all the pieces," Wicker said. "Without football, we could be on the outside looking in.
"The real money is in football."
All the Aztecs need is a home. Wicker is not overly concerned. If worse comes to worse, he says the school could fund-raise $150 million for some sort of structure.
The ideal spot is Mission Valley where the school would love to expand its campus. But in these days of runaway revenue, it's not wise to settle. Frankly, the program deserves better.
It is one of the great mysteries of the universe why 85 studs wouldn't want to play here.
"Everybody seems to want to live in San Diego, but [players] aren't necessarily looking at it that way," Long said. "They're looking to be on TV and get to the NFL."
There will be a vote on the so-called "Soccer City" complex proposed by FS Investors later this year. SDSU broke off talks with FS in May.
It has been suggested the professional soccer would be a loss leader so FS Investors can get its project done. The MLS already loses $100 million a year, according to a league official.
"Why should we be paying for a private developer's losses from his soccer team," Wicker told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
If the school stuck a shovel in the ground today -- partner or not -- it would take about three years to secure the land and build on it.
Meanwhile, Petco isn't available in 2020 because -- of all things -- the Padres have blocked off October of that year, according to Wicker.
"They think in 2020 they can realistically get in the playoffs," he said.
That's a first: A major-college football program blocked by a baseball team that's had one winning season since 2008.
Forget those questions from parents, what about negative recruiting at this point? The Aztecs could be homeless.
"I don't know of any particular instances," Wicker said, "but I'm sure there are."
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