We hear so often about money in college sports. Head coaches bolt for other schools for more money. Schools build new training facilities and expand 60,000-seat stadiums to eventually earn more money. Conferences expand to add new members to increase the geographic footprint they point out, to annex television markets and, yes, to haul in more money.
If the landscape of modern-day college athletics teaches us anything, it’s that administrative decisions are quite often based on money and profits. What makes the most fiscal sense for a university and its athletic department? What ensures long-term stability?
Considering all that, why would USC be any different?
I pose that question foremost because people remain surprised. Fans have been grappling with the strange concept of USC keeping the status quo after arguably the most disappointing season on the gridiron in school history, a 7-5 finish with back-to-back losses to hated rivals UCLA and Notre Dame (keeping the status quo, meaning retaining coach Lane Kiffin and enacting minimal changes, at least thus far).
But if you really think about, is it all that surprising, really? Think green here.
Despite what has happened on the field in recent months, things are going pretty well for the USC athletic department at least in terms of its finances. The school reported record athletic-related revenue for the 2011-12 academic year — $84.19 million, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education in October. Senior Associate Athletic Director Steve Lopes credited an increase in donations and corporate sponsorship for the $10 million jump in revenue during an interview at the time with The Orange County Register.
Average attendance per game at the Coliseum this fall also stood at 87,945, the highest average mark since 2006, and USC notched four sellout games against Hawai’i, Colorado, Oregon and Notre Dame. So there’s plenty reason to suggest the program isn’t facing any substantial drop in ticket sale revenue for the next year. Hundreds of thousands of people made it to their seats, or at least purchased a ticket.
Moreover, the John McKay Center, a $70 million, 110,000-square-foot athletic facility, opened in August. And on top of this, the school announced “The Heritage Initiative,” a $300 million athletic fundraising campaign, with the school reportedly halfway toward reaching that mark.
And in the wake of NCAA sanctions, levied in June 2010 for a “lack of institutional control,” the university is widely considered the nation’s leader in athletic compliance, with a staff of approximately 14 employees, among the largest of any higher education institution. Suddenly, USC’s in everyone’s good graces.
Yes, financially and in terms of its national perception, USC is doing rather well.
So really, why make changes, why do anything that would drastically alter the direction of the department? Why panic? Why reverse course? In a sense, everything’s peachy.
Athletic directors typically enact change for the sake of finances. A bad coach might result in a bad season, a sub-.500 season. Then, nobody shows up for the games, there’s poor attendance, fewer folks make donations and there’s a drop in revenue. Eventually, the school will opt to go in a new direction, or however it wishes to phrase it in the press release. It has to, in order to maintain those finances and stay competitive.
But in several respects, despite on-the-field struggles, USC stands fine. It’s got quite a bit of revenue; it’s even profiting.
So though many fans have been anticipating — and even clamoring — for change for change’s sake, it doesn’t appear likely.
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has mentioned during several interviews in recent weeks that it’s his job to make “rational decisions,” in spite of the frustration and demands for change (i.e. firing Kiffin).
Though USC’s football program might be a disappointment, men’s basketball is coming off a historically poor season (a program-worst of 26 losses) and baseball continues to hang around the bottom of the Pac-12, wholesale changes don’t appear in order.
Kiffin will return next fall. Men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill and baseball coach Frank Cruz’s jobs also appear relatively safe.
If USC is fiscally sound, it wouldn’t be rational to go against the status quo now.
So you want change? Maybe think about how you use your wallet.
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