Updated at 5:29 p.m. Jan. 19, 2017:
San Diego State University has started talks with the city of San Diego on extending its lease for staging football games at Qualcomm Stadium for an additional two years, Athletic Director John David Wicker said Thursday.
At a news conference to announce a five-year contract extension for head football coach Rocky Long, Wicker said the current lease will expire after the 2018 season. He said the lease extension would last through 2020.
Discussions with the city on the future of Qualcomm Stadium are in their initial stages in the wake of the Chargers’ decision last week to move to Los Angeles, according to Wicker. Issues include how to handle signage, skybox rentals and whether to replace the facility’s antiquated video boards — things that used to be in the NFL franchise’s purview.
The longer contract gives school officials time to build what he called “a San Diego State appropriately sized” stadium for the Aztecs on the 166- acre property, potentially in partnership with a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
Whether SDSU will have that chance is up to city officials.
“The city is still obligated to maintain the stadium for its other tenants, including San Diego State University and the Bowl Association, through 2018,” said Craig Gustafson, a spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “Given the anticipated ongoing expense to the general fund, the city is undergoing review of the financial feasibility of continuing stadium operations beyond that point.”
Wicker said he wants to improve the game-day atmosphere at Qualcomm Stadium, and later provide fans at a new facility an experience more like what’s enjoyed at basketball games.
“I think if you look at what happened at Viejas Arena, what it became over time with atmosphere, (coach) Steve Fisher was winning games and the program was doing well and then that atmosphere mushroomed into something special,” Wicker said. “Well, Rocky Long is building something special with our football program.”
School officials in the future will reach out to fans, alumni and the business community for input, he said.
Long, 66, said the departure of the Chargers was “a sad deal,” but provided his program with an opportunity.
“There’s a lot of really good football fans in this town that maybe don’t want to drive four or five hours to see a football game when they can see a pretty good product right here at home and maybe they’ll become fans of our team,” Long said. “I think that college football has a lot of things to offer that pro football does not.”
Wicker said offering an extension for Long, through the 2021 season, was “a no-brainer” following the Aztecs’ second straight 11-win season. Long has won three Mountain West championships in his six seasons as head coach, and has a record of 54-26 at SDSU.
—City News Service