Rowan University President Donald Farish announced Monday the school's intention to add a soccer-specific stadium to its ambitious campus development plans. Major League Soccer will support Rowan's search for an investor for the project because the stadium, upon its completion in 2009, would serve as home to an MLS expansion team.
The league has agreed to exclusively work with the university over the next four months on the development of the stadium, MLS President Mark Abbott said.
Unless funding or another unseen obstacle comes into play, the university expects construction to begin in order to field a club for the 2009 season. A deadline for Rowan has been set up for the project to agree with a developer to head construction.
Rowan University President Donald Farish said the funding is set to be mostly private, with little or no state aid from New Jersey to be included in a wide-ranging project that will affect the university on all levels.
"It's a great day in the history of Rowan University," said Farish in an announcement in front of his students. "Major League Soccer is very important ... this school wants to go to the next level."
Farish said that he and other Rowan University officials visited The Home Depot Center and spoke with faculty and administrators at Cal-State Dominguez Hills about their public-private partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group. Farish said their positive responses helped lead Rowan to begin seeking a similar arrangement.
The partnership announcement for a joint stadium project was just part of the university's announcement that would include athletic department infrastructure, hotels, student housing and other assorted complexes. Rowan currently plays at a Division III level in the NCAA pyramid, with a 10,000-strong student base. Farish specifically mentioned the university is not set to change its affiliation to Division I due to the expansion of its infrastructure.
The surrounding area, like most of New Jersey, is rich with both tradition and participation in its soccer community.
"Major League Soccer is pleased to have entered into an exclusive negotiating period with Rowan University as the potential site of a soccer-specific stadium and an MLS team," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a statement. "We are excited both by the possibility of helping Rowan extend its educational opportunities, and by the prospect of having a new stadium ready for an MLS team as early as 2009. While we recognize that much work needs to be done, this is an encouraging first stop in the process toward bringing first-class professional soccer to the area."
Ownership and franchise issues are secondary in this unique case of a Philadelphia-area team, with the stadium project being a large stone in the foundation. If at the end of the four-month negotiation period both sides are happy with the plan and choose to go ahead, the next -- and probably most crucial -- step would be finding a local investor to join the MLS ownership group.
The university owns a 280-acre parcel of property in the vicinity of its campus at the intersection of Route 55 and Route 322 on its west campus. The state school is planning expansion of several fields for its athletic department surrounding the stadium hub, the future home of the MLS team. Rowan University would be the owner of the facility with the MLS club as a tenant. Some $200 million of the project has been put towards the building of athletic facilities.
Philadelphia has long been a desired landing spot for Major League Soccer. The area's geographical location would easily foster rivalries against the New York Red Bulls to the north and D.C. United to the south. If the club opens play, it would be the first major professional sports team in southern New Jersey.
Aris Ohanessian is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.