STEVE SPURRIER EXTENDED his coaching reach this week, pleading with South Carolina football followers to stay in their Williams-Brice Stadium seats past halftime. Unfortunately, Spurriers words were aimed at the wrong audience.
It is not the studio audience at college football stadiums that should be blamed for leaving games at halftime. Spurriers pleas should have been directed at the TV executives who scheduled a 12:21 p.m. kickoff in early September in Famously Hot Columbia.
As long as the NCAA continues to allow TV networks to run college athletics, this is what you will get: A mass exodus at halftime of USCs blowout victory over East Carolina, a game played this past Saturday in sweltering 90-plus degree heat.
The student section was the first to clear. Then, most of the sun-baked studio audience in the east stands bolted. By the end of the third quarter, probably only a third of the audience of 77,000, announced at kickoff, remained.
No doubt, the empty stands looked bad to anyone watching on TV, and that probably is the genesis of Spurriers comments. His fear likely is that potential recruits saw a fan base that deserted the team at halftime.
So, Spurrier mentioned his disappointment with the fans in his postgame comments, saying USC fans needed to stay in the ballpark a little bit. Then, during his Sunday teleconference, Spurrier said those who left early should feel a little embarrassment.
By his Tuesday press conference, Spurrier first said he was done talking about it. Then, he talked about it.
Hopefully, our people will want to stay, Spurrier said. If its a blowout in the middle of the fourth quarter, certainly, you can understand people leaving and so forth. But, last week, that was halftime. That was halftime, gee. . . .
Hopefully, our fans will understand if were going to be a big-time football program, you dont need to leave at halftime.
Spurrier can be forgiven for his comments. He likely never has sat on an aluminum seat in direct sunlight for three-plus hours, watching a mildly entertaining football game. He probably also never has waited in line at a concession stand to pay $3.25 for a bottle of water.
That is not to fault USC and its athletics department. My gosh, USC athletics has done everything imaginable over the past few years to improve the in-studio experience at Williams-Brice Stadium and entice folks to leave the comfort of home for the college game-day event.
This year alone, USC opened a beautiful new tailgating complex at the old Farmers Market. Also, a new $6.5 million, 36-foot-by-124-foot video board in the north end zone was unveiled for the home opener, allowing the in-studio audience to see the same replays as those watching in high definition at home.
What is out of USCs control is the kickoff time for games, and there is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube on that subject. TV networks, most notably ESPN, dictate kickoff times without regard to the desires or needs of the programs involved or their fans.
Networks pay outrageous sums of money for the rights to televise sporting events. So, those networks get to determine when those events will be played. That is why we have student-athletes playing road games on Thursday nights with the possibility of missing classes on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It also is why USC played a game this past Saturday in scorching heat.
My guess is that USCs fans are as loyal as any. Those folks have followed USC football through a whole lot more thin than thick over the years. They still come close to filling 80,000 seats nearly every Saturday, seven times each football season.
Perhaps USC could provide free watering holes for the studio audience during afternoon games in September or reduce the price of bottled water to $1. Maybe water slides could be added beneath the stands in each end zone.
The real solution to keeping the fans in their seats is for USC to be the first athletics department in the country to stand up to TV and refuse to play a game at 12:21 p.m. on the first weekend in September in Columbia.
Of course, that will happen the next time it snows in Famously Hot Columbia in early September.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)