The University of Southern California unveiled plans last week to remodel the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and reduce the overall capacity of the stadium to 77,500 overall, a sizeable decrease from the previous capacity of 93,607. The detailed plans also include restoring the iconic Peristyle, improvements to luxury and press boxes, better Wi-Fi throughout the stadium, and enhanced amenities to the stadium's audio and visual equipment. In all, the Coliseum is finally moving into the modern era of football.
While some fans and boosters have pushed back on this plan, school administrators are never going to please everyone and this is a move that makes a ton of sense for USC. The dirty, not-so-secret secret among those around Los Angeles is that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, as iconic as she may be, is one of the biggest structural eyesores in college football. If you've never been inside the stadium, it's as old as it looks, perhaps even older. The fact that it seats so many people and is often less than full at the start of games has further compounded USC's issues with the Coliseum in recent years.
The Trojans have long prided themselves on their NFL connections. Whether it is the continuous stream of athletes into the professional ranks, players like J.J. Watt and Tim Tebow working out and filming segments there, or constant references to the Trojans being Los Angeles' "true NFL team," the school has proud and notable ties to the professional football community. Their stadium size and feel used to reflect that, but now the Trojans are truly embracing what it means to be a college team.
While there can be no doubt that stadiums like Texas A&M's Kyle Field or Michigan's Big House are more than capable of actually holding 100,000-plud people, USC has never been the type of environment where that many people show up for football games. In the past USC fans have unfairly been tabbed with the fair-weather tag, but the reality is that Los Angeles plays host to a ridiculous number of professional sports and entertainment icons.
There is only so much money to go around and so many hours in the day to make that happen. When the Kings, Dodgers, Angles, Ducks, Trojans, Bruins, Lakers, Clippers, and Galaxy all play within a reasonable drive of one another, you're going to end up with empty seats. That doesn't even include the frequency with which L.A. plays host to award shows, galas, dinners, concert events, conferences, and movie premieres.
As a result of all of this, the Coliseum has become a template for the "empty stadium [x] minutes before kickoff" photos that are far too common and cliché on social media. These photos usually start making their way around Twitter at about 5:30 p.m. PT and always right before a Thursday kickoff. Invariably, these same cognoscenti of stadia arrival patterns never tweet photos of that same stadium when halftime rolls around and it's relatively full. It's also like they never read the academic study, "Get Me to the Ball Game on Time" by Sigurd Grava and Fred Nangle. They discuss many of these factors in their paper.
The qualitative measurable effect on USC’s recruiting has been negligible, but the narrative persists and it has worked against the program for the better part of this current decade. It's curious few have ever mentioned the fact that while USC might not have necessarily been hurt by this narrative, addressing the issue and increasing the college nature of the school might actually help recruiting. As weird as that is to imagine, the pressure of producing at a school like USC will scare some away from playing under Los Angeles' bright lights. The usual fallback for fans is to say that these kids wouldn't have succeeded anyhow, but that is foolish logic.
To borrow from another Los Angeles team, Zack Greinke was peppered with similar comments when he opted to test out the big-market, bright lights Dodgers as a fit. Greinke was known for having social anxiety and it was often thought that a smaller market team would be a better fit because of the pressure and obligations of a big market. When Greinke signed with the Dodgers over other potential suitors, many fans of those clubs satisfied their displeasure by predicting he would fail in Los Angeles and their team would be proven right for not spending the money on him that the Dodgers were offering. Instead Greinke would go on to partner with Clayton Kershaw as one of the most dominant one-two punches in all of baseball. Greinke didn't fail in a big environment, he found success in the right one and that's something USC now has the chance to control moving forward.
While a reduction in capacity does not remove the expectation and pressure for athletes to perform, it does make the environment more intimate and that can go a long way in college football, especially when you talk about the Trojan Family. One of the things schools sacrifice when they go big is an ability to keep things intimate. Some of the most raucous sporting venues in the world seat around 60,000-80,000 people. But even in their limited capacity, these fans are able to create noise and an environment famous for its ability to generate ear-shattering volume levels. Heck, a Turkish stadium with a capacity of 50,000 held the world record until the Kansas City Chiefs broke it in 2013, so these noise levels and environments aren't just limited to Europe.
Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Germany, home to the Bundesliga's Borussia Dortmund, is the largest European soccer stadium specifically used by one team. There are larger venues, but they are often the site of championships rather than regular season play. Signal Iduna Park seats 81,359 people for league matches and reduces that capacity to 65,829 for international matches. German juggernaut Bayern Munich only play in front of 75,000 for league matches, such numbers would put Bayern on par with Michigan State.
Los Angeles has always been about fame, stars, entertainment, and success. The one thing you almost never hear associated with Los Angeles is the "family environment." The Trojan Family will soon have an environment that matches the intimate nature one expects upon hearing the word family. The reduced stadium capacity will bring players that much closer to fans and fans that much closer to the team they love. The improvements to the facilities will finally allow USC to showcase an iconic venue with a modern twist. In its structural capacity, the Coliseum did not reflect the advanced nature of USC's academic programs, instead it just served as a reminder that USC did not own its facilities outright like many of the best programs in college football. Those days are now over.
Aside from what this means for the players, this now gives USC something that its chief rival does not have. UCLA plays in one of the most historic venues in all of American sports, but they have only played at the Rose Bowl since 1982 and the Bruins do not have the master lease on the property. The Coliseum is but a short distance away from the actual campus and now it will finally reflect ownership by the Trojans. The Rose Bowl is 43 minutes away from UCLA and will always be more than just UCLA's home field. Such may also be the case for the Coliseum, but the Trojans may now completely turn the venue into an extension of the university, UCLA cannot do this at the present time.
The Trojans gaining control of the master lease was one of the best possible things that could have happened to the school. For far too long, USC was a team living in a home it hadn't completely unpacked. Now the Trojans have the ability to decorate their house any which way they please and they will most assuredly do so with the flash and flair that we have come to expect from USC facilities. It will be the perfect blend of tradition, excellence, modernization and intimacy. The Trojans finally have a home to call their own and they've set about giving it their personal touch.
Other schools have always had a difficult time recruiting against USC's location and tradition. Can you imagine the terror of recruiting against facilities, tradition, and location when USC finally hangs its name on the door and roll out its own cardinal and gold welcome mat?
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb is a recruiting analyst for BarkBoard, Scout’s Fresno State affiliate. A contributor to USCFootball.com, Scout’s USC affiliate. He is also a regular guest and contributor for Reign Of Troy, USC’s FanSided affiliate. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.
(Top photo courtesy of coliseumrenovation.com)