Historically, football is the most popular sport at USC, mainly because the Trojans have more than 850 wins and 11 national championships dating back to 1888. The spirited culture surrounding football has become a significant component of the university.
However, much to the disappointment of Trojan fans, the 2021 college football season less than ideal. The team currently sits at a disappointing 4-5 for the season.
The school fired head coach Clay Helton two weeks into the season and have no shot at making the Pac-12 Championship Game. USC needs to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible.
Trojan fans, among USC students, seem to be growing more disinterested in attending football games this season. Even after a pandemic season, where no fans were allowed in the Coliseum, attendance numbers are significantly lower than those of the 2019 season.
“Once upon a time, people were fighting for tickets to go to the USC games. Now, there’s a certain lethargy,” said John Callaghan, USC Professor Emeritus of Kinesiology and expert in sports psychology and role of sports in society. “I think that people just can’t be bothered.”
For a school where fall weekends traditionally revolve around game days, attendance this season has been shocking. Some sections are left entirely empty, fans arrive to the game late and leave before halftime.
College football fans are taking notice of USC’s attendance woes, as pictures of the Coliseum crowd for their Homecoming Game against Arizona went viral on Twitter.
A strong finish to the season, including a victory against archrival UCLA this weekend, could help fix this downturn in attendance and overall interest, but there are also larger issues that must be addressed.
Notably, the athletic department must find a new head coach and the Pac-12 Conference as a whole must catch up with its peers across the nation when it comes to football success.
For now, USC’s basketball team seems to be ruling the school’s fandom.
The Trojans ended last year’s basketball season with an Elite Eight appearance in the 2021 March Madness tournament, their best finish since 2001.
They’ve also produced a first round NBA draft pick in each of the past three seasons—
Kevin Porter Jr. in 2019, Onyeka Okongwu in 2020 and last year’s third-overall pick Evan Mobley, the highest selection for a Trojan in the school’s history.
This year’s teams boast a 3-0 record after Tuesday’s win at Florida Gulf Coast and debuted at No. 25 in this week’s AP poll.
Callaghan believes the success of sports teams directly correlates to the school spirit within the student body. More specifically, it has an impact on how they walk around campus, apply themselves in school and interact socially.
“If the team is doing well, they feel much, much happier and they look upon things in a much more positive light,” he said. “If they think highly of their university, then it, without a doubt, impacts their approach to so many different directions in their lives.”
USC’s home opener, an 89-49 victory over Cal State University Northridge, did not disappoint the fans in attendance. The student section brought energy and enthusiasm into the Galen Center.
Even with the apparent success of the basketball program and the poor performance of the football program, some students are still doubtful about whether basketball could overtake football as USC’s most popular sport because of the substantial financial support the football program receives.
“I think basketball will be more popular when it’s in season just because it’ll be the talk and especially if they keep rolling and winning,” said Allyson Tabayoyong, a freshman business administration major. “But I think football will remain more popular.”
While it may take some time for USC to fully become a ‘basketball school,’ there is optimism for new life next semester if Trojans basketball continues their hot streak.
“If they keep winning and moving up in the rankings every week, I think students would definitely attend more games and even increase the energy at Galen, especially as it gets closer to March Madness and USC has a shot at doing well in the tournament,” said Justin Zakarie, a junior real estate development major.
USC football takes on their cross-town rival, the 6-4 UCLA Bruins, Saturday at 1 p.m. with hopes of keeping the Victory Bell in the hands of the Trojans.
Following ‘Conquest Week,’ the basketball team returns home to face Dixie State on Monday before heading to Anaheim for the ‘Wooden Legacy’ tournament during the Thanksgiving Weekend.
Will Simonds contributed to this report.