Fascinating to see the fate of a public university’s football program in the hands of private enterprise (one that readily has taken public funds and is equally loath to give back.)
Written By Kyle Magin
San Diego State University football is riding a sinking ship. The Aztecs are getting booted from the city’s Qualcomm Stadium after 2018 as San Diego shuts the old dump down following the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles earlier this year.
When their lease in Mission Valley ends, the program will be effectively homeless—not exactly a position a Division 1 football team wants to find itself in.
A hoped-for lifeline—a $100 million co-finance deal with a private La Jolla group called FS Investors who are planning a Major League Soccer stadium for the old Qualcomm site—has since fallen apart, with SDSU asserting its need for a bigger stadium than the footie boys are willing to build. SDSU is still assessing its options, including an appeal to the city of San Diego to carve out part of the Qualcomm site for a stadium and campus buildings.
Enter the San Diego Padres.
In the early phases of the Chargers’ departure, Friars chairman Ron Fowler came out and welcomed the Aztecs to their downtown Petco Park with open arms. It’s a nice civic gesture, but hardly one Fowler should be empowered to make—after all, taxpayers gave the Pads $300 million for their $450 million downtown digs in 1998. Yet, because pro sports teams are good at spending other people’s money and maintaining control of their venue, the team decides who plays at the park.
This week, however, the Padres got suspiciously loud about their gracious offer. Team COO Erik Greupner went on AM 1090 on Wednesday to publicly state that the team would make a home for the Aztecs through the end of the 2019 season, but no further. He explained his reasoning with a lot of bullshit about groundskeeping and building a team that will play deep into October, but one can’t help but think the limits of the Pads’ generosity is more nefarious than they’re letting on. Padres co-owner Peter Seidler is a member of the FS investors’ “coalition,” and the move feels a lot like the team pressing SDSU into caving on their needs for a new park and partnering on a Mission Valley plan the school clearly feels is compromised.
Whether or not this is the case is besides the point. The bottom line is the public—the same public who kicks taxpayer dollars into San Diego State University—put up a majority of the capital to build Petco Park. If the Aztecs need to use the park while they figure out the hows and wheres of building a football stadium, they should be able to find a shelter at Petco for as long as is necessary. To let private interests call the shots with a publicly-financed venue AND push a public entity into a potentially costly or untenable situation is intolerable. The timeline is a noose around the school’s neck, and the Padres are greedily pushing the Aztecs toward the gallows.