The University of Southern California Trojans are going to the Rose Bowl in 2008 – and possibly permanently, unless a deal can be worked out to keep USC at its historic home field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
A long-brewing standoff between the university and L.A. Coliseum Commission has come to a head over the future of USC’s tenancy at the 84-year-old stadium, with the Trojans threatening to pull up stakes and move to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.
USC’s lease with the Commission ended with the conclusion of the regular college football season December 1st and a win over the UCLA Bruins that clinched a 2008 Rose Bowl game berth.
The Coliseum Commission was expected to discuss a compromise proposal at its December 5th meeting. Hedging its bets, USC has also submitted a proposal to the Rose Bowl Operating Co. in case the impasse can’t be broken, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The university fired a PR shot over the Commission’s bow in late November with the posting of several documents, including the lease proposals, on its Web site. Included was an open letter from athletic director Mike Garrett outlining USC’s offer and calling on boosters to contact elected officials.
In its rejected proposal, USC offered to spend $100 million over 10 years to repair and upgrade the 92,000-capacity Coliseum, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games and is a historical landmark. In return, the university requested a long-term master lease that would give it more control over revenues, including naming rights.
"USC has been waiting – I believe patiently – 10 years for the Commission to do this, but they have not taken the necessary steps, and they will not promise to do so anytime soon," Garrett wrote. "For a decade the nine-member Coliseum Commission has hoped to attract an NFL franchise to the stadium. Their plan has been that the NFL would pay for renovations."
Garrett noted the NFL’s statement over the summer that bringing the Coliseum up to league standards "would create significant economic risks for the NFL such that we are not prepared to move forward with the project at this time."
The dispute isn’t your run-of-the-mill lease negotiation. The Trojans trace their history with the Coliseum to its opening in 1923, and have been the stadium’s only tenant since the NFL’s Raiders returned to Oakland in 1994. The Los Angeles market has been without a professional football team since.
And with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s November 28th admission of the obvious – that the Coliseum is no longer considered a viable NFL venue – USC would appear to have the upper hand in negotiating favorable terms for a new lease.
The issue has become a political football as well, with Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dragged into the fray.
Both have appointees on the Commission, and political stakes in keeping an economic engine like the USC football program in South Los Angeles. And both are trying to help broker a deal that would keep USC at the Coliseum.
Some Commission members have publicly suggested that a large number of USC’s more well-heeled alumni, including those in Orange County, would prefer to attend games somewhere other than the Coliseum, which is located in state-owned Exposition Park, adjacent to USC.
But some of USC’s fans have let commissioners know they are less than pleased with the idea that the Trojans could wind up sharing a field with crosstown and Pac-10 rival UCLA. Commissioners have reported receiving death threats since the news of the impasse broke, and at least one canceled plans to attend the regular season finale with UCLA.
"I’ve gotten many, many calls along the following lines: ‘Hey, Mr. Chadwick, hope our paths don’t cross. Understand you’re married, you’ve got three little girls,’" Commissioner Bill Chadwick told the Times.
In addition to the December 5th meeting of the Coliseum Commission, the Rose Bowl’s governing board was expected to meet the following day to discuss USC’s short-term lease proposal. Tom Dickey, USC’s senior VP and general counsel, told the Times that if Rose Bowl officials agree to a lease, USC will sign it.