I have always felt it is hard to determine the value of a college football program. Unlike, say, for a professional baseball team, Forbes doesn’t annually list the monetary value of Florida, Texas or USC. There isn’t an established market price. There isn’t an exact figure that can be attached.
There are a few things, however, that might indicate at least some significance: TV deals, Nielsen ratings and attendance numbers. All small samples, sure, but something to work off of, at least in looking to estimate a program’s worth.
Based on attendance, all signs would appear to indicate the USC brand has taken somewhat of a hit in recent months. In its most recent game, a 48-41 win over Arizona, attendance was listed at 63,707 — the lowest since 2002.
In several respects, it’s representative of a scandal-plagued 16-month stint for a program that has all so suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
Yet, with this week marking the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of C. L. Max Nikias as USC’s 11th president, it begs the question: Why has the new administration been largely silent in regard to football?
Historically and culturally at USC, football is king. Nothing in that is surprising. Nothing in that is at all groundbreaking. It’s largely and commonly accepted.
Based on the current state of affairs, however, fans are frustrated — not necessarily with any individual or organization but simply with the current predicament: four years probation.
They are frustrated with losing — six losses in two years. They are frustrated with a cultural change. Perhaps, more than anything, they are frustrated with the restrictions, a postseason ban and scholarship reductions that have been placed on a beloved football team. Restrictions that, despite other similarly alleged NCAA violations nationwide, have yet to be imposed upon any other program.
Oddly, Nikias has largely failed to, at the very least, address the elephant in the room that is football and sympathize with an increasingly irritated fanbase.
To the best of my knowledge, he has publicly spoken about the football program on just two occasions. The first came after the school’s appeal of sanctions to the NCAA last January when he thanked the appeals committee for a “fair” proceeding. The second came in August when the university said it would not pursue any further recourse against the NCAA.
Neither statement exactly warmed the hearts of alumni scattered throughout Southern California and across the globe.
Granted, it doesn’t fall high up on the to-do list of a president at a top-25 university to pay lip service to the football program, but for something so important to so many alumni, students and others living within the metro complex of Los Angeles, remaining mute in this regard is inadequate.
It is certainly a sensitive time. It’s a unique situation. Nothing has gone right. USC was arguably the king of college football from 2002 to 2008, and, whether right or wrong, that is the expectation.
Moving forward, Nikias can’t be silent in this front. He’s indicated that the success of football is important to some degree in regard to the university’s goals over the coming decade.
His silence, however, would indicate indifference, and no matter how many billions he raises — USC announced a $6-billion fundraising campaign in August — fans want to know where football fits into the larger equation.
“All this is the great adventure,” Nikias said during his inauguration speech last October. “All this is the great journey. All this is the way forward to the destined reign of Troy.”
Fans are begging to know: Is football a part of that “destined” reign of Troy?
The thing about football is that it’s tangible.
Nikias can put billions of dollars into various academic programs, but for a majority of alumni, parents and others living in the South Los Angeles community, they don’t necessarily experience that. They get to experience football — six to seven times a year at the Coliseum.
They don’t get to sit in an engineering lab. They don’t get to undertake research. They don’t get to listen to a guest lecture from a doctor with a Ph.D.
They, for a select number of days, get to watch Matt Barkley throw touchdown passes to Robert Woods.
Maybe Nikias has entrusted new athletic director Pat Haden with carrying out football’s PR campaign moving forward, and that’s fine. But to put it lightly: That’s not enough.
Both Nikias and Provost Elizabeth Garrett were incredibly proactive in the addition of women’s lacrosse. They lobbied heavily for it and got sponsorship within months. They’ve demonstrated they care about collegiate athletics.
That’s not necessarily a point of contention.
Football at USC is the breadwinner in every sense of the word. It’s been that way since Howard Jones coached here in the 1920s. USC wins and it wins at football, plain and simple.
Outside circumstances, though, have changed in this regard. The times are different. Things aren’t exactly the same.
But as Nikias heads this leg of the race, he’s long overdue for at least acknowledging where football fits in.
“The 19th Hole” runs Mondays. To comment on this article email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.