Just one day after ascending back to national relevance with a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press poll, USC received a reminder of the struggle to gain exposure from coast to coast in its current conference.
On Sept. 24, the Trojans play at Oregon State in what is expected to be a battle of unbeaten teams — and a sure draw for television ratings.
But on Monday morning when the Pac-12 announced its TV schedule for that day, USC-Oregon State was listed as a 6:30 pm kickoff on the Pac-12 Network.
It had to be a typo — Fox airing Oregon-Washington State at 1 pm and ESPN airing Utah-Arizona State at 7:30 pm while the Trojans are relegated to the Pac-12 Network, which will greatly limit how many fans across the country can tune in to watch the latest installment of Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams, Jordan Addison and USC’s deranged, turnover-producing defense. The Pac-12 Network is not available on all cable or satellite providers, with DirecTV customers among those shut out.
It was not a typo. So, how did this happen?
The explanation is actually pretty simple, but it doesn’t make the scenario any less maddening for USC fans. According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly, this season, by contract, the Pac-12 Network is guaranteed to carry at least three USC games.
The Trojans already played their season opener against Rice on the Pac-12 Network. The Stanford game aired on ABC, and Saturday’s Fresno State game will air on Fox. Knowing that two of the final nine games have to air on Pac-12 Network, Fox and ESPN passed on USC-Oregon State so they will have more choices among the Trojans’ bigger games later in the season as — theoretically — they continue mounting a push for the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Looking ahead, USC’s matchups at Arizona and home against California jump out as games that could potentially be the Trojans’ third Pac-12 Network broadcast.
Of course, whenever that news comes next, it will also be disappointing – even if we now understand why.
The good news for the Trojan faithful: Once USC is in the Big Ten starting in 2024, it will never have to settle for what is akin to a regional audience again.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.