It was a proud day yesterday when I saw the new US News and World Report college rankings and found that my alma mater USC had finally leaped their crosstown rival UCLA in the rankings. USC is sitting pretty at 23 while UCLA is in a three-way tie at 25. Let’s put this in context.
Historically, USC had been regarded as a “Gentleman’s C” school, a private school where rich kids could go and meet their wife (an attractive wife) and make some great business connections (Trojan Mafia). They could see some winning football and party up and down 28th Street without a care in the world.
At one point under former President Steve Sample’s leadership, USC starting making waves. For a long while, they ascended and were ranked in the 30s, still a large gap between them and Berkeley and UCLA. The endowment at USC began to explode and they started bringing in more diverse students and flexing muscles as a research university. The endowment currently is about 2.6 billion dollars, a staggering 600 million higher than UCLA. Eventually, the gap was reduced to a few spaces in the poll, but to understand why taking the lead was so important, you must understand the way conversations go between Bruins and Trojans in this city.
Most Bruins don’t bring up USC paying it’s football team (or ignoring that other people pay them while they are at USC) because UCLA has won the most NCAA titles in basketball, and they know they pay their players too. John Wooden’s teams took money as did John McKay’s. It is a part of the game. This is me complementing UCLA fans (as a generalization) for attempting to pick and choose their battles.
What does happen in these conversations though is a train of thought that always runs down the same track. A USC fan will tell a Bruin that their football team sucks. Then a Bruin will say USC’s basketball team sucks, but now that their team sucks, they fall back on two things: USC kids are rich/spoiled and UCLA is a better academic school.
I am by no means wealthy, but I don’t mind being called wealthy. Spoiled? Well, sure. USC lost one game my junior and senior year in football, every girl I ran into all day was attractive and I was at the best film school on earth. It was pretty awesome. I assume that makes me spoiled. Why not? I loved being there. It was about drinking the Kool Aid, not hating the system.
As for being a better school, well. Scoreboard. Equal, maybe. Although one is trending up, the other is trending down.
Does it mean USC is vastly superior? Of course not. UCLA is a fine, fine school. I would be proud of my future kids if they got into UCLA. At least for in-state tuition (UCLA out of state is about 8K less than USC, in-state about 30K less), I would save a lot of money. On the other hand, being that my kids would be Bruins I would need to spend that 30K on a seriously cool car for them so they had a chance at competing with Trojans for the better looking girls in the city. I kid, I kid. UCLA kids don’t leave Westwood, so they don’t need a car. Heyo! Zinger!
I just see this day as being significant if only because UCLA must recognize now that they have lost their greatest advantage. It could flip back next year, sure, but the point is, there is no gap now, at least according to this poll, which is the main poll people point to when they want to point out how super superior they are over other people they know.
I know the reality is we are dealing with two fine, fine schools. The thing is, UCLA had for decades one really great excuse for anything they were made fun of for. That excuse was that they were a better school. At this point, that argument is one they should reserve for Washington State.
Love to my Bruin friends, it is all in good fun. I will leave you with a closing thought. This is your mascot: