Let’s be honest; there hasn’t been a busier man in Southern California over the past month than new Athletic Director Pat Haden.
For a man thrust into the responsibility of reinvigorating a program that has lost some of its prestige and luster the past year, the former Rhodes Scholar has taken the bull by the horns — so much so that Google News can’t even keep track of all his recent exploits.
There was the emptying of a certain trophy case in Heritage Hall, the overdue pink slip sent to Deudeaux Field — even the appearances he made at the football team’s first fall practices should be applauded. Because, unlike his predecessor, what drives this man to show up isn’t the obligation of the job or a chance for a candid photo-op, but rather his passion for the university, which runs much deeper than simply pride in the athletic program.
But for a man who has put the word loyal back in loyalty, I have one final request for the student body.
August around these parts doesn’t exude strong sentiments for college basketball, and that’s understandable. But although Haden has excelled in his first 30 days on the job, my offer for the former USC quarterback couldn’t come a second too soon.
I’ve heard that students here get a bad rap for being self-absorbed and even greedy at times, but if ever a university needed a campaign for that M.O., I don’t mind being the poster child right now.
When you think of the most dominant men’s basketball programs across the country, names like Duke, Kansas, UNC and Michigan State are likely the first to pop up.
What do they all have in common?
Aside from the plethora of national championships, Hall of Fame-bound coaches and a community that embraces them through thick and thin, the answer is: a vibrant student section.
There is no better recipe on a Saturday night to drive college populaces from the fraternity kegs towards the arena turnstiles than a culture built on banner raisings and monumental moments in March.
However, one glance at USC’s basketball history and selling USC fans on the Galen Center isn’t that simple.
Though I can’t complain that the university has put its first foot forward in recent years — allowing students to enter the Galen Center with just a simple flick of their I.D. cards — it’s time for an upgrade for loyalty.
Although last year’s season was marred by the actions and inactions of men who no longer are associated with USC, hidden beneath the ugliness of scandal was the beauty of unity and school pride.
Despite resting in the wake of Mike Garrett’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban, never was home court advantage so evident on this campus as it was inside the Galen Center last February during home games against Cal and UCLA.
Say what you will about the noise inside the Coliseum during marquee games or the rabid fans that took to the stands of the McDonalds Swim Stadium last fall to cheer on the back-to-back NCAA champion men’s water polo team; what took place last year in the Trojan Fever section was astonishing, uncommon and, best of all, reward-worthy.
I grasp the concept “You get what you pay for.” But given the enthusiasm shown last year, the seats given to USC students during the basketball season is a subtle slap in the face.
The Galen Center is a palace of a sports arena, with great P.A. sound, H.D. scoreboards and comfort most sports fans would revel in. And yet the entire student body is relegated to watching the game going north to south, through the backside of a glass backboard.
Traditionally at most universities, the area behind and around the basket is reserved for the band, cheerleaders and members of the community. But at USC, this domain of about 1,200 seats belongs to the students.
There’s no point crying over spilled milk, but my advice for Haden and recently appointed Associate Athletic Director J.K. McKay is that if you don’t want that milk to go sour anytime soon, let the Trojan Fever spread to the sidelines.
Angelenos might squirm at the idea of sharing elbow space with snot-nosed 20-somethings, but it’s time to go back to rule No. 1 of business ethics: Cater to the needs of the paying customer.
And despite the deep pockets of some of the Trojan followers that reside in Los Angeles, the paying customer I am speaking of are the thousands of students that pour tuition money into this university each semester. You know, the people these games are played for in the first place.
In Durham, N.C., you can smell the sweat of Kyle Singler. In Chapel Hill, N.C., students can hear the verbal diarrhea spewing from Roy Williams as he chastises an official over a blown call. In East Lansing, Mich., Michigan State’s students don’t have an entire section, they lay claim to most of the entire lower bowl.
Even across the way in Westwood, where they play second fiddle to USC in academic rankings and Gauntlet showdown victories, UCLA students hold one distinct advantage when it comes to the hardwood: a much better viewing experience.
This plea for an upgrade might easily fall on deaf ears, especially since Haden has more on his proverbial plate than hot dog eating world champion Joey Chestnut.
But if ever there were a man that could sympathize with this 1,200-word loyalty-themed violin solo, it’s our athletic director. Look no further than his 34-year marriage to his wife, or his undying love for this school at a time when it hasn’t been easy to exhibit that type of affection.
So Mr. Haden, if your tenure of restoration is to continue down your current path of excellence, remember the process of maintaining a relationship with the student body — one which is based on trust and loyalty.
Who knows, a small act of good faith could go a long way.
The ball is in your court.
“For The Love Of The Game” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.