On Monday, the Mobile, Alabama City Council held its weekly meeting, but for once, the room was packed to the brim with onlookers. They all wore red.
The University of South Alabama bussed wave after wave of supporters, students, coaches and staff to Government Plaza for both the City Council meeting and the Mobile County Commission meeting just before. South Alabama Athletic Director Joel Erdmann pleaded a case to both, outlining the University’s need for a football stadium and requesting the funds to build it.
He came away with nothing, but the result was by no means negative. Both councils featured members who were in support of financing this venture. However, the consensus was “come back with the details nailed down.”
For the nine-year-old program, this is the closest an on-campus stadium came to reality. Rumors have tossed around the Mobile Bay area since the Jags formed a team, but in the meantime they made a home out of Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The team has been tangled with the venue, and by extension high school football, the Senior Bowl and the Dollar General Bowl, since.
In 2015, Erdmann and President Tony Waldrop announced a feasibility study, an “exploratory process” into an on-campus stadium. The next year, Waldrop announced the project was indeed feasible and Erdmann went so far as to say “it is all contingent on funding.”
That October, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson received a structural evaluation report giving Ladd Stadium a “D+” rating. It was no shock that a 70-plus-year-old venue would show signs of aging.
The pieces were in place. Over the next year Erdmann’s attention was diverted to two collapses: that of the Jaguar Training Center and the football team. Father of the program Joey Jones was out, and Steve Campbell was in.
The plans for a new stadium remained adrift, though, until former Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage mentioned “inherent issues” with Ladd-Peebles Stadium in early 2018. Ultimately, Savage mutually parted ways with Mobile’s premier sporting event, but the damage was done. Both the city of Mobile and Mobile County offered to put money toward the new stadium in May.
The next month, the University formally announced its plans to move forward with the stadium. The Board of Trustees voted, allowing Erdmann to begin construction—once funding was secured. Between donors and fundraising, South planned to foot most of the bill.
As for the remainder, South went public. The University proposed that as a joint venture, the city and county could lighten their budgets by supporting the new stadium rather than maintaining Ladd. At Monday’s meeting, Erdmann publicly offered to let Ladd’s other tenants—the Senior Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl and an HBCU game called the Gulf Coast Challenge—stay rent-free at the stadium for the length of the contract.
Simpson said in an interview that it was more fiscally responsible to support the new stadium than to maintain Ladd, revealing the report his office had had for two years. He suggested rebuilding the venue into a new, smaller stadium for high school football events. For that, South pledged to give $2.5 million to the city.
The plan is not without its opponents, however. Ladd-Peebles Stadium Board Chairwoman Ann Davis said at the meeting Monday that she felt the process was moving too quickly and that there were not enough details regarding the future of Ladd.That lingering question was enough to tide discussion over to the next meeting, for both councils.
One man went before the City Council to oppose the motion. He touched on the history of Ladd before mentioning the University of Alabama’s stint at the stadium. For nearly twenty years, Bama played a single game in Mobile.
“I know everybody in here loves the Roll Tide,” he said.
The sea of red murmured in response. He was out of touch with the people in the room, whose very presence was enough to show that South Alabama was getting what it wanted. It was only a matter of time.