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USC's threat to leave may be (com)mission impossible

December 01, 2007|Bill Dwyre

As USC fans settle into their seats for today's cross-town rivalry game, there'll be more to talk about than running backs and Rose Bowl parties.

This was the week USC fired a shot across the bow of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. There may still be some smoke lingering in the peristyle end.

The Trojans went public. Timing and aim were masterful. During USC-UCLA game week, leading to the biggest business day of the year for the Coliseum, USC said it was tired of all the foot-dragging on improvements for the historic old lady and, by implication, was not happy with the three-headed monster called the Coliseum Commission.

USC said it was tired of playing in a dump, of having its fans endure smelly bathrooms, ancient plumbing, crummy concessions and claustrophobic tunnels. Just let us take it over, run it, have all power over it and profit from its operations, and we'll commit $100 million over the next 10 years to fixing up the old girl.

And if you won't, we'll take our ball and go up the Pasadena Freeway, where they have a nice place called the Rose Bowl.

When the Coliseum Commission said no, it wouldn't do that deal, the reaction was what USC had expected. The public was outraged. USC fans hated the idea of going elsewhere, especially to the home of the team where their hate was the deepest, UCLA. And UCLA fans, most of whom don't even like being in the same room with a Trojan even if they're married to one, were amazed that it was even a consideration.

The Trojans played easily to the perceived ongoing incompetence of the Coliseum Commission. It was shooting fish in a barrel.

The Coliseum Commission lost the Rams, didn't it? And the Raiders? Didn't a man named Galen have to pony up millions so his Trojans basketball team didn't have to play amid the cracks and creaks of the Sports Arena, also part of the Coliseum Commission's domain?

Isn't this the same Coliseum Commission that, with help from Mayor Richard Riordan, knocked the underpinnings from Peter O'Malley's attempt to get the NFL back, a proposal that, in retrospect, appears now to be the closest L.A. came to an NFL return? Isn't this the same Coliseum Commission that has danced every dance imaginable since then with the evil NFL empire and always come up empty-handed?

Isn't it finally clear that a governing body consisting of three people from the state, three from the county and three from the city -- four elected and five appointed -- is a useless, non-functioning mess? Isn't a six-time divorcee a bad risk in a seventh marriage?

USC never quite said any of it that way. It knew the court of public opinion, where blame comes quickly and a deeper look seldom occurs, would have a verdict in the first day or two. Which it did.

The truth is, this is a complicated deal that is a lot more about business than sports and a lot more about winning in the boardroom than on the football field. There are not all good people on one side and bad people on the other. There are just high-powered types, used to getting front-row tickets and getting them by spinning and calculating and leveraging and getting the best deal.

The outcome of this will not be soon, or simple. But some reporting produces the following talking points, to whatever end:

* When Disney was trying to get rid of CEO Michael Eisner, the main combatant was Roy Disney, whose lawyer was a man named Stanley Gold, then and now an influential businessman in Los Angeles. Among the influences in getting the Disney stockholders riled up was a quickly created website, where they could go to see documentation of dealings with Eisner. Soon, Eisner was gone.

When USC made the announcement that it was trying to do business with the Rose Bowl, it quickly put up a website that referred fans to documentation of recent dealings with the Coliseum Commission.

Stanley Gold is a USC trustee.

* The Coliseum Commission has spent far too much time and effort romancing the NFL, which it now knows it will never take home from the dance, and leaving USC, its most loyal and long-term date, always feeling unloved. Now, when it might be too late, the majority of the commissioners, with the exception of Bernard Parks, would be more than willing to live the rest of their lives alone with USC.

* USC's current financial deal with the Coliseum is outlined in one of its website documents. The school says it has paid the "standard rate use of the Coliseum, averaging approximately $990,000 per year over the last ten years." It will play six games there this year, and if you take a figure of $50 a seat times 90,000 seats times six, you have $27 million in ticket revenue.

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