Lack of Gaucho Football Isn’t a Matter of Principle; It’s a Matter of Price


Matt Mersel
Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers trumped the Atlanta Falcons to move on to the Super Bowl for the first time in almost 20 years. Even at home with the windows closed, I could hear the cheers of Niners devotees throughout Isla Vista. There’s a big contingent of football fans at University of California, Santa Barbara, ranging from Niners fans to Raiders fans to Chargers fans.

Which raises the question: why can’t the student body get excited about its own football team?

It’s no secret that UCSB lacks a football team. What may surprise some, though, is that the school has had a team before—twice before, as a matter of fact. The Gaucho football team first played in 1946 and existed until 1972, when the program was stopped before the season due to budget restrictions.

The team returned for the 1984 season, and under the NCAA’s then-brand-new Division system, the Gauchos began competing at the Division II and Division III levels. However, in 1992, the NCAA ruled that all schools at the Division I level must have all Division I sports. As UCSB is a Division I school in the Big West Conference will all other sports at said level, the football program would either have to undergo some major changes or shut down. The Gauchos did not return for the 1992 season.

More than 20 years after the last football game was played in Harder Stadium, and Gaucho football is all but a distant memory. Information on the team is hard to come by, as even the UCSB Athletics website barely mentions the teams aside from a few entries in the Hall of Fame. With a huge prospective market of students and the chance to make a fresh start on the football field, it’s easy to wonder why there isn’t more of a push to get a new program installed here on campus. However, there is an easy way to explain this: money.

College football programs are expensive. There are millions and millions of dollars that go into sustaining a team every year, and it is difficult to turn a net profit. For example, in 2012 the USC Trojans were valued at about $68 million, according to Chris Smith of Forbes. The Texas Longhorns, the most valuable team in the nation, is worth a staggering $133 million. That’s a high price of entry for a school that would need to start a team almost from scratch. As Cork Gaines from Business Insider estimates, it takes around $100,000 just to dress a team to play.

Also, while the more valued programs can generate quite a bit of revenue ($104 million for the Longhorns), this is an anomaly. As stated in the Revenues and Expenses Report for the 2004-2009 NCAA Division I-AA football teams, “Only two percent of football programs… reported net generated revenues (surpluses) for 2009, which is consistent over recent years.” The Division I-A teams almost always turn a profit, but it is unlikely that UCSB would immediately be able to play among the top school immediately after founding a program. And with the constant budget concerns that the University of California system has been experiencing, it is doubtful that so much money would ever be risked on a football team.

It seems that students, however much they would like to see a Gaucho football team, understand this fact. “I would support [a football team] if we had it, I’d go to the games every Saturday, no matter how hungover I was,” says second-year film and media studies major Coleman Gray. “However, it’s still expensive to outfit a football team, even a Division I-AA team. Tuition is already so high, and we don’t have the benefactors that a team like Ohio St. does. It’d come out of our pockets, and I’m okay with not having one. It’s not worth it.”

Having a football team here at UCSB would be very exciting, but the monetary obstacles are a bit insurmountable at this point. For the time being, supplanting football excitement to the NFL might not be such a bad idea.


  1. I have a dream of UCSB returning to football some day. Reviewing past history, cost, and the two times the sport was dropped due to NCAA rules and budget issues it seems that trying to enter as a NCAA D-I program is a non-starter in today’s environment.
    I think the way to go is to form a club program, like the successful (at times anyway) lacrosse, rugby, and rowing clubs. They compete at the equivalent level as varsity teams, but cost the school much less and can be largely student run and funded.
    UCSB’s second football incarnation began as a club. The problem today is while there are club programs back East their are no college club teams in California. The solution is to promote the revival of at least some of the nearly 20 college football programs that have been dropped in our state over the years, largely due to budget issues, NCAA rules, Title Nine, etc. If just four colleges could revive club football teams and be committed to stay at an affordable club level, UCSB could have a viable and sustainable program.
    OK no big time players, no scholarships, no TV deals, etc. but at least students who love the game could play and spectators and alumni could follow a Gaucho team again.
    I played football back in the day with Coach Curtice when we had a viable and successful program. I played in the first game in the then “Campus Stadium” and have fond memories of my four years playing for “The Plant” or Cactus Jack. Now as an alumni there is no team to follow in the news. I also played rugby when it was just starting as a club, and dabbled a little in the first lacrosse club. Now I see two well organized programs, still as clubs, playing numerous club teams up and down the state, in well organized conferences.
    Why can’t football follow that model? It could be a no scholarship, volunteer coached, largely self-supporting program for those who want to continue playing the sport after high school or community college or into graduate school. It would take seed money from alumni and sponsors to get a program off the ground with basic equipment and no luxury buses going to away venues. Just drive your own cars, as we did for rugby back in the day. It would also take cooperation with at least three other colleges to form similar clubs so that there could be enough games to make an interesting league. Perhaps scrimmage games could be arranged with non-college clubs, JV’s, or community colleges.
    Hopefully if this model works many of the colleges in the state might start similar club programs to accommodate those students who enjoy the game and want to play for the fun of it after leaving high school or community college. There are still lots of football alumni alive in the 20 odd schools that previously had viable programs, some with very long and storied histories. Perhaps they could help interested students to establish club teams that would be the core of a conference similar to those that now exist for rugby and lacrosse.
    Below is a list of schools that once had football and now do not. The history of each varies, but each had at least some football and some had long standing programs that only recently were dropped largely due to budget problems, NCAA rules, or the lack of nearby competition with similar level programs.
    CSU Sonoma
    CSU East Bay
    CSU LA
    CSU Fullerton
    CSU Northridge
    CSU Long Beach
    San Francisco State
    San Francisco University
    St. Mary’s
    Santa Clara
    Cal Tech
    University of Pacific
    Chico State
    Pepperdine University
    Alliant University (no longer has any sports, used to be Cal Western)

    There may be some I don’t know about, but these once had football. There are also a large number of colleges that sponsor club programs and NCAA or NAIA programs in other sports but never had football, that might join a new club conference if a viable option for competition was available and if student interest is enough to begin a club program.

    I plan on researching the death of these once viable programs and what might be done to revive them. Just a pipe dream, but who knows, rugby and lacrosse were once just young college kids and perhaps a grad student or two who wanted to start a new club sport. That is how things get started and they seem to be viable programs, as clubs, today, as are a few programs back East.
    Jim Sweeney
    UCSB football alum class of ’69