USC is a football school. It always has been, and always will be. No matter how many consecutive national championships the men’s water polo team wins (five), All-Americans the USC women’s volleyball team has (two in 2012) or supermodel wives the USC men’s basketball coach marries (one), Saturdays at the Coliseum will always be the biggest event on campus.
At least for those who actually attend the games.
But as USC continues to fade from football relevance, fans aren’t heading out to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum early. Instead, they’re not even showing up at all. The announced attendance for USC’s game two weeks ago against Boston College was 62,006, which was the lowest figure in a decade. Even after throttling the Eagles, last week’s announced attendance against Utah State was 63,482 with the actual figure looking closer to 50,000. A two-thirds full Coliseum, however, does not mean a similarly proportioned decline in fan support.
It seems stunning considering that the Coliseum consistently led USC to the highest average attendance in the Pac-10/12 during the Pete Carroll era, but USC is slowly losing its home field advantage.
Besides the bottom two rungs of the student section and a smattering of sections on the north side of the stadium, the only other section that appeared more than 75 percent full last Saturday was the one filled with Utah State fans. After leading the Pac-12 with an average attendance of 87,945 last year, USC is averaging just 67,770 fans in 2013’s first three games.
One would hope the attendance figures and negative energy from the stands wouldn’t affect the team’s on-field product, but Trojan players aren’t oblivious, and they are taking note of the growing number of empty seats.
“Yeah [we notice], but we try not to pay attention to that,” sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams said on the slowly dwindling number of fans in the seats after last Saturday’s win. “We just come here and play ball.”
At USC, however, the on-field performance is more than just playing ball. USC wins, and the campus is chipper on Monday. USC loses, and the weekend is ruined. Yet this 4-6 stretch USC is currently on has not just dampened the mood for many, but put out the fire.
No doubt, part of USC’s poor attendance is indicative of Los Angeles’ “What have you doing for me lately?” reputation as a sports town. Yet the on-campus reaction has shifted from disappointment to acceptance.
Instead of relief on Monday after that 17-14 squeaker over Utah State, the mood across the university was more aligned with indifference. Even with a win, the student body (or at least, many of the students) expressed the belief that 2013 is a lost season with nine games still left. Student tickets were being given away by the time last Saturday’s game rolled around, as the market for USC tickets looks to have hit a recession.
There’s no shortage of dedicated Trojans fans. A quick glance at a tailgate or various USC message boards online will dispel any doubts. Still, the recent lack of attendance has made a divide palpable.
“The true fans are here, and I’m thankful for them,” junior linebacker and team captain Hayes Pullard said after the last game.
It’s a bitter dilemma. As detestable as it might be, the better the Trojans play, the more likely the Coliseum is to see fans pour back in. The UCLA and Stanford games will inevitably draw big crowds regardless, but in the minds of many, there’s little motivation to attend home games against Utah and Arizona if the on-field product remains marred in mediocrity.
And mediocrity looks par for the course right now. The Trojans’ defense is ranked up there with the nation’s best, but USC’s offense is ranked No. 93 out of 125 FBS teams with 22.3 points per game, and the Trojans rank No. 108 with 340 total yards of offense per game. Only five teams from the BCS conferences have fared worse than that, one of them being Boston College. Combine excellent and awful, and you come up with average.
After three tumultuous weeks at home, the Trojans head to the desert this weekend to take on Arizona State. It’ll be another two weeks after that before the next home game against Arizona. Either USC will be 4-1 and possibly back in the national polls with fans eager to cheer on a winning team, or 3-2 and already focusing on racking up enough wins to make a bowl game. It’s as simple as this: Play well for 60 minutes, and all might be forgiven. All it takes is one game. USC is, after all, a football school.
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