LOS ANGELES — At USC, football rules. Always has, always will.
Yet the Trojans generally have featured a strong men’s basketball program as well under coach Andy Enfield, now in his seventh season at USC. And with that basketball program, new USC athletic director and former CU Buffs athletic director Mike Bohn has inherited a challenge similar to the one he turned around at the CU Events Center after he hired head coach Tad Boyle in 2010.
Bohn also inherited a problem from NCAA watchdogs he never had to deal with when he oversaw the Buffaloes.
With Boyle’s 20th-ranked Buffs visiting the Trojans at the Galen Center Saturday night, one sidelight of a matchup that has been heated and sometimes contentious in recent seasons will be the reunion between CU’s leader and the man who brought him to Boulder.
Like Bohn’s early years at CU — he is a graduate of Boulder High and was the Buffs’ athletic director from 2005 to 2013 — Bohn is faced with the challenge of generating fan interest in the Trojans’ basketball program. Despite a talented roster that entered Saturday’s date against CU with a 6-2 mark in Pac-12 play, USC began this past week with an average home attendance of 3,354, which ranked 11th in the league.
Only 4,478 fans watched the Trojans improve to 9-1 at home this season with a win against Utah Thursday night. In 2012-13, Boyle’s third season at CU, the Buffs shattered every program attendance record, with much of that credit going to Bohn’s ability to get students in the seats.
“As I think back of the fond memories I have of being in Boulder, not only as a Boulder Panther but as a Buff, one of the things I’m most proud of is the basketball resurgence,” Bohn said. “When I arrived in Boulder we were the only program in the Big 12 that was losing money in men’s basketball. Being able to partner with Tad and the student body, and the basketball enthusiasts that I grew up with, it was incredibly fulfilling to be able to turn that around in such a dramatic way. And build the practice facilities and the locker rooms. And the passion and energy that came from the students at Colorado was incredible.
“Every time I walk into the Galen Center, I think back to our first year of the Pac-12 and we had our students that traveled with us and they went to the women’s game there, and we were able to win our first-round game against Utah (in the Pac-12 tournament) and then the men won four straight at the Staples Center. The first time I went into the Staples Center (recently) I couldn’t help but think back to how cool that was. So obviously trying to emulate that here is certainly something we’d like to do.”
Of course, generating similar interest in Trojans basketball might be more difficult with NCAA investigators hovering over the USC campus. Bohn was hired in early November, and it was just one month later when USC received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, presumably for the details surrounding the arrest of former assistant coach Tony Bland in 2017 in the FBI’s college basketball corruption probe.
It wasn’t a mess Bohn made, but now it’s his responsibility to clean it up.
“I believe the institution has been on top of that as any institution that I’ve ever watched be engaged with that,” Bohn said. “I believe we’re well-positioned to ensure we handle that appropriately and with obviously great respect for the enterprise of college basketball. I’m very confident our leaders have really had a good handle on it since day one, and will continue to have.”