USC Football's Popularity Showing Major Deficiencies in Event Planning

Sunday, September 18, 2005, at 01:20PM

By Eric Richardson

Yesterday USC opened its 2005 home football schedule at the Coliseum against Arkansas. The game itself was a blow-out; USC won 70-17. That makes 24 straight victories, and 22 straight at home.

This is my fifth year at USC, just as it is Pete Carroll's. The team went 6-6 his (and my) first season, and has progressed rapidly since then. That's certainly made the games a lot more fun, but it's also made them a lot more crowded. Perhaps the place you feel that most is in the student section, where it's now increasingly hard to find a good seat and can almost be dangerous trying to get in when the gates open.

USC students enjoy great seating at the Coliseum. The first-come, first-served seating stretches all the way to the 50-yard line on the north side of the field. But students hoping to enter the stadium are forced to do so via one entrance -- Gate 28. The scene here is chaotic in the half hour or so leading up to the time the gate opens, officially an hour and a half before kickoff.

This year whoever is in charge tried to create some semblence of order by erecting some orange hurricane fencing that wound a couple times to create a line capable of holding a couple hundred students. That, of course, was already full by the time Kathy and I arrived two hours before kickoff. And twenty minutes or so before the gates opened that fencing gave way to impatient (and likely drunk) students. The crush forward was ridiculous. People in the crowd would push closer, and the effects would ripple through. I saw a few people come very near to fist fights. At times it was tough to remain standing without being toppled over into the people around you. Coliseum, LAPD, and USC workers were all at the gates, but none did anything.

Inevitably the gate opens late and when it does there's a vain attempt to get people to move back. That never works, but the Coliseum workers spend five to ten minutes trying. Then they start slowly letting people in.

To be able to enter the game students purchase a "Spirit Card", which in years past has been a sticker but this year is just an electronic thing. They put an entry into a database with your card's ID number, and then at the game have handheld PDAs with magswipe slots. They may have been Palm-based; I couldn't get a good enough look to tell. In any case, though, they apparently have a delay between swipe and when the record actually shows up. I don't know exactly how long, but you can imagine that any delay is death when you're trying to let 10 - 12 thousand students siphon through six card readers. A 1.5 second time per card read would equal at least 41 minutes to get everyone through the gate. And I don't doubt that number; we were near the front relatively speaking and it took a while to get up there.

This new technological issue is just another stain on the Coliseum and USC's already pathetic record when it comes to cleanly getting students into the stadium. I don't know who is in charge of that setup -- USC or the Coliseum Commission -- but the current system should not be allowed to remain for even this season. Crowd and line control must be put into place, and must be enforced. It shouldn't be a late reaction to an existing problem, but instead a planned and pre-implemented approach to dealing with a known problem that has existed for years now.