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.