You want to see a stark difference between college football in the eastern half of the country and in the western half?
… Since 1992, nine others Cal Poly used to play regularly (through an all-time total of 137 games) have also discontinued football. Going back to 1971 puts four more in the cemetery (67 additional games).
Six of the Mustangs’ 10 opponents in 1975 no longer play, and of the four left, only one still plays at their level – the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), comprised of 125 teams. Three moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), now incorporating seven California schools.
According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, of the 38 states with FCS representation, none has as low of a team density per capita as California, with just four members for more than 36 million would-be fans. [Emphasis added.] New York, with just more than 19 million, has 10 teams to choose from. Even South Carolina, with about four-and-a-half million people, can pick from seven.
“It’s tragic,” says Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson of the trend, which in 2004 resulted in St. Mary’s informing 14 incoming freshmen who’d signed letters of intent that the team they’d committed to no longer existed, inspiring Neil Hayes of the Contra Costa Times to advise, “Go east, young man. There is little opportunity here.”
Indeed, Cal Poly, which was forced into several reportedly six-figure appearance-fee contracts this season (totaling at least $780,000), and will play twice as many games in the Central time zone (four) as it will against foes from California (two), is something of a football rarity on the West Coast: a survivor.
“There’s nobody out here any more,” says Michael Simpson, athletics director at San Francisco State, which last took the gridiron in 1994.
There’s lots of finger pointing as to why – budget cuts, Title IX woes, inadequate planning by administrators, none of which are problems unique to California – but the real cause is much simpler. It’s called lack of interest.
… At some schools, football has resurfaced in club form, as it did at UC Santa Barbara from 1986 to 1991 after being cut in 1971.
Students, however, eventually lost interest, says Bill Mahoney, a Gauchos assistant athletics director.
“I sense a little more indifference to football on the West Coast,” he says.
A similar trend took place at Cal Tech, which last played in 1977, before a club manifestation lasted from 1978 to 1993.
“There’s been a T-shirt for sale in our bookstore that says, ‘Cal Tech football: undefeated since 1993,’” says Wendell Jack, Cal Tech’s athletics director. “That’s kind of our tongue-in-cheek way of looking at things.”
Jack, who pointed to the lack of an NFL team in Los Angeles, shared Mahoney’s sentiment that despite the occasional ground swell, Californians may just not care.
“It’s kind of a mess, from my perspective,” he says. “In Ohio, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, if they talked about dropping football, someone would probably die. There just seems to be apathy here. In California, there’s so much more to do, it’s just different.”
(h/t The Wizard of Odds)