Six seasons in, Sun Life Stadium has never felt like home for the Miami Hurricanes. Could change be in the air?
The Miami Hurricanes are set to enter year seven without a bona fide place to truly call home.
Sure there is Sun Life Stadium—the Canes' current digs, house of the Miami Dolphins, host of a few Super Bowls and considered, by most, a decent place to play football. Still, folks who spent many a rowdy Saturday in the raucous Orange Bowl between the early 1980s and the early 2000s certainly know better.
Will the University of Miami overcome local hurdles and find a way to get into a new stadium sooner than later?
"The U" is under contract to remain in Miami Gardens for the better part of the next two decades, but the venue will forever feel akin to sleeping in somebody else's bed—right down to the missing Canes' helmet in the end zone, lack of a logo midfield, hovering Dolphins presence and yards of dead space between the sideline and the stands.
While all of that brings frustration and despair, there's a sliver of hope for the University of Miami, courtesy of a pretty-boy, former soccer legend on a mission.
David Beckham has taken a liking to the Magic City and wants to bring soccer to South Florida. Of course to better his chances of doing so, he needs more than financial backing—Beckham must form a local alliance, and who better than the vagabond Hurricanes, in search of proper place to play, much closer to home?
UM represents an ideal, marquee long-term tenant—one with a solid brand, tremendous history and a strong following—currently backed up by years of losing and frustration regarding venue ever since that rickety steel structure in Little Havana was torn down in early 2008.
For Miami, jumping on the Beckham bandwagon is the lone, tangible option if a "home" stadium is an ultimate goal. The global superstar has the name, face, brand and connections to get folks excited and focus on funding, while UM president Donna Shalala has the savvy, politically background and a full Rolodex of her own, when it's time to shake the trees.
The tag team duo of Beckham and Shalala could be unstoppable, if both parties have a similar vision and can unite on the cause.
Unrealistic enthusiasts will rant and rave about a desire for an on-campus stadium, but it's a pipe dream that won't ever come to fruition. The City of Coral Gables would never allow such a thing, while logistically speaking, two-lane roads like Ponce De Leon Boulevard can barely handle random weekday traffic, let alone a home game on a Saturday during fall.
The 275-acre Tropical Park is five miles from "The U" and has been mentioned as a possible site, but nothing more than a petition and rallying cry from a legendary hometown running back have ever grown out of the suggestion.
For a private school in a metropolitan city, with just over 10,000 undergraduates, eight figures won't be allocated for a built-from-scratch concrete structure that will only see action six to seven days every fall.
For Miami, it's Beckham or bust—meaning that without a viable alternative, the Canes will have to serve out their full 25-year sentence at Sun "No Life" Stadium—which will remain as is for the time being.
A $400 million renovation was proposed and fell flat when the Dolphins' bid for public financing was blocked by the Florida House of Representatives last May. The NFL franchise was asking the state to approve just shy of $100 million in sales tax rebates over the next three decades and wanted public funds to cover upward of half the renovation costs.
Beckham's proposed stadium would be less than half the cost—while also about half the size.
Sun Life's capacity hovers around 80,000. A co-soccer and football stadium—possibly built at the 36-acre PortMiami location—would have to be near 40,000 in order to accommodate the Hurricanes' needs.
Beckham's original bid was for a 25,000-seat stadium, but preliminary discussions with Miami made it known that the Hurricanes would need more than that in order to accommodate season-ticket holders (30,000), students (6,000) and space for fans of visiting teams (4,000), according to a recent report by Barry Jackson at The Miami Herald.
While Sun Life Stadium is bigger, the result certainly hasn't been better.
Outside of matchups against Florida State, or the occasional out-of-conference perennial power—Florida, Ohio State and Oklahoma come to mind—a sea of empty orange seats are oft the norm on college football Saturdays in Miami Gardens.
A smaller venue—with closer proximity to UM's core fanbase—could potentially have an Autzen Stadium-like impact on the Hurricanes. The rabid fans would be in attendance, making noise and providing that "12th Man" effect the rocking Orange Bowl had in its heyday.
Oregon's stadium houses just over 54,000—up from just over 41,000 prior to a 2002 renovation—yet is know as one of the rowdier venues nationwide. That type of quality-over-quantity effect could play well for "The U"—especially if Miami's port area winds up the new home base, a viable option with the Port of Miami Tunnel Project already underway.
Artist renditions online showcase a stadium with an open end zone—in Orange Bowl fashion—yet with a more picturesque backdrop of a crystal blue ocean and the city's skyline, both much more in line with the Miami lifestyle.
While the major networks always come back from commercial breaks with shots of South Beach during nationally televised Canes games, Ocean Drive and NW 199th Street couldn't be further apart aesthetically.
The Miami program took a gut punch when Sun Life's renovation plans were cancelled but could land an all-time knockout blow if this proposed deal eventually finds its way through.
This project would rejuvenate a fanbase, welcome the Hurricanes back "home" on game day and greatly impact recruiting—while finally incorporating the unique city's flair into a one-of-a-kind college football experience.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.