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San Diego • John David Wicker returned to San Diego State as athletic director on Monday, saying his top priority will be to find a better home for the Aztecs' football program.
Wicker replaces Jim Sterk, who was hired away by Missouri in August.
Wicker was SDSU's deputy AD from 2011 until leaving for Georgia Tech in July 2015 to serve as senior associate athletic director for operations.
He's already up to speed on the challenges faced by SDSU's football team, which is bowl eligible for the seventh straight year but is hamstrung by a less-than-ideal lease at Qualcomm Stadium, where the NFL's Chargers are the primary tenant.
"From the health of the department, from a football standpoint, we need to address the stadium situation," Wicker said after his introductory news conference.
The Aztecs will be able to better sort out their options after the Chargers have a clearer picture on whether they'll vacate Qualcomm Stadium, either in the extremely long shot that they'll get a new stadium downtown, or if they'll exercise their right to move to Los Angeles.
The Chargers have placed a controversial citizen's initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot asking voters to approve an increase in the hotel occupancy tax to generate $1.15 billion to help pay for a $1.8 billion downtown stadium and convention center annex. The city's powerful tourism industry opposes the measure, and even the team has said it expects the measure to fall short of the two-thirds of the vote needed to pass.
That could force the team to negotiate a new deal with the city, or it could move to Los Angeles to join the Rams in a new stadium scheduled to open in Inglewood in 2019. The Chargers were given the option to move to L.A. after fellow owners resoundingly rejected San Diego's plan to build a stadium in Carson with the Oakland Raiders.
In April, SDSU endorsed turning the Qualcomm site into a campus annex if the Chargers leave Mission Valley. The aging stadium would be demolished and replaced with a smaller stadium with a capacity between 30,000 and 40,000. Under Sterk, the school began discussions with a group of private investors interested in bringing an MLS team to San Diego to share a stadium with the Aztecs.
There's no room on campus for a new football stadium. A new basketball arena was built on the site of the old football stadium in the 1990s. The Aztecs have enjoyed a strong home-court advantage at Viejas Arena, which has a capacity of 12,414.
The Aztecs think a smaller football stadium would do the same. The defending Mountain West Conference champion Aztecs (6-1), led by star running back Donnel Pumphrey, have drawn an average of 36,967 fans this season to 70,000-seat Qualcomm Stadium.
"We need to generate more premium revenue. We need to have a better environment, something that invites our students to come in," Wicker said. "We can create a Viejas-type feel and when there's a lot of excitement, that helps the team and it makes people want to come to the stadium. Because of that we really need to look at it."
The Chargers have said they have no interest in a new stadium in Mission Valley. However, if the Chargers don't move to L.A. and building a new stadium at the Qualcomm site is their only option, Wicker would want a better deal.
SDSU gets no revenue from parking, concessions or in-stadium advertising at Qualcomm.
If the Aztecs and Chargers continue to share a stadium, rather than being a tenant, "I want to be a partner there, because again, revenue generation is what we need out of a football stadium," Wicker said. "Whatever happens happens, and we'll just kind of wait to see those dominoes fall."
Mission Valley, he said, "makes the most sense for our program and I'm excited to understand what all's going on and look forward to moving that ball forward."
In his previous stint at SDSU, Wicker helped get a new basketball practice center built, and would know what it would take to get a football stadium built, school President Elliot Hirshman said.
"All of these aspects I will look to J.D. to move it forward," Hirshman said. "I'm really excited about him in that he's a person who has those connections in this community and has built facilities in this environment. So those are great things he brings to the table in terms of moving a football stadium forward."
Wicker also was involved in the firing of women's basketball coach Beth Burns in 2013. Last month, a jury awarded Burns $3.3 million in her wrongful termination suit against SDSU.