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USC considers leaving Coliseum for Rose Bowl

As lease talks over the home field stall, Trojan football may bolt to the other historic stadium.

November 28, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

No matter the outcome of Saturday's game between USC and UCLA, the Trojans could wind up in the Rose Bowl.

For good.

Frustrated by lack of progress on a lease agreement with the Coliseum Commission -- one that would allow the school to run and renovate the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- USC is negotiating with the Rose Bowl to begin playing home games in Pasadena next fall.

While a deal with the Pasadena stadium is not complete, a potential USC lease agreement is on the agenda for a Dec. 6 meeting of the Rose Bowl Operating Co. The school's two-year lease with the Coliseum expires after Saturday's game.

Some insiders have dismissed USC's talks with the Rose Bowl as a negotiating ploy, saying it's highly unlikely the school would ever leave a stadium that's practically part of its campus. But others point to the number of teams that have left the Coliseum over the years and say USC is likely to uproot if there's no significant progress with the commission.

"We've been a loyal, faithful tenant of the Coliseum for 80 years, and our goal is to continue playing in the Coliseum for another 80 years," said Todd R. Dickey, USC's senior vice president for administration. "But in order to do that, the Coliseum has to be improved. It needs to be repaired and restored. And we've offered to make those improvements, not just to hand the money over to the Coliseum Commission, but for the university to actually operate the facility."

That offer: A minimum of $100 million over 10 years toward the stadium's repair and restoration. As part of the deal, the school would be in charge of running the venue.

The commission has repeatedly rejected that proposal, although it did comply with a request USC made in September for a new two-year lease, an agreement that has not been signed.

"As far as we're concerned, they asked us for two years and the commission gave it to them," said Pat Lynch, the Coliseum's general manager. "If they asked us for five years, we'd give them five. If they asked us for 10, we'd give them 10. We can't read their minds."

USC officials say those are simply long-term leases, at six games a year, not improvements to the facility or a master lease.

The future of the Coliseum's relationship with USC will be the central focus of the commission's monthly meeting next Wednesday.

"We certainly hope they don't leave, and we don't know what we've done here other than reject the entirety of their master-lease proposal," Lynch said. "We, as a group, told them what our concerns were. Here's our plan. Here's what we want to do. We recognize there's a way to get that done."

The commission's major concern: Turning over the keys to a historic landmark that some believe still has the potential to generate millions of revenue in major international soccer games and naming rights. There's also the element, some political observers have suggested, that commissioners would like to avoid making themselves superfluous.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is "absolutely committed to keeping the Trojans in South Los Angeles," according to Matt Szabo, a mayoral press secretary.

"USC football is one of the most important economic engines in South L.A. and the mayor has no interest in seeing those jobs desert the city for Pasadena," Szabo said.

David Israel, a Coliseum commissioner, questioned the school's timing in raising the issue now, mere days before a pivotal game between USC and UCLA.

"I'm not going to engage in conversations in this and upstage the game," Israel said. "The players and the coaches and the students are what's important this week. I think bringing it up now is a terrible disservice to them."

So far, the crosstown rivals have been cooperative. They used to share the Coliseum, and USC received permission from UCLA before it opened negotiations with the Rose Bowl. Those discussions have now touched on specific issues such as locker rooms -- the Trojans would take over the locker room visitors now use, and pay for the construction of a third one -- as well as signage and stadium color schemes.

UCLA noted in a statement released late Tuesday that it was "willing to review any proposal regarding an additional tenant." It also noted that its current lease, which runs through 2023, protects its position as the primary tenant.

In the past, various neighborhood associations and preservationists have objected to proposed Rose Bowl renovations in the name of bringing the NFL to Pasadena. A measure on Pasadena's ballot last year allowing the NFL to enter a years-long contract with the Rose Bowl was defeated in a landslide, with 72% of voters opposing the initiative.

But City Manager Cynthia Kurtz said the notion of USC playing at the Rose Bowl would likely be well received by many Pasadena residents, although there have been no community discussions on the subject.

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