In 1997, Chico State dropped its football program. At that time, Chico State Athletic Director Don Batie spoke for many when the school announced it was disbanding the football team. "It certainly is a setback, I'm certainly not happy, I'm certainly sad about the decision."
But during its final year of football in 1996, the Chico State Wildcats were drawing sporadic crowds. The team had not enjoyed a winning season in eight years. Even today, Athletic Director Anita Barker hears the calls for football to make a comeback at Chico State. "I'd say once a month I probably get that question."
But for many reasons, the primary one being money, football is not in Chico State's near future. Barker says the athletic department has a budget of about $3.5 million. If it was brought back, football would need approximately $750,000 per year to operate, according to Barker's estimates.
To give that number some perspective, Chico State currently allocates the most money to the baseball program. Its annual budget is $80,000.
Division 2 schools, like Chico State, are required by the NCAA to field 10 sports equally divided between men and women. That means only three of the department's 13 sports could be eliminated. Barker says "you could pick whichever three you wanted. You could pick baseball and basketball. You could pick cross country and golf. You could pick soccer and volleyball. It doesn't matter what combination you pick, they don't equal the amount of money it takes to sponsor a football program."
That amount includes travel, which would be extensive, since there are only four division two football programs west of the Rockies. Barker says "so we're in this place where we have nobody to play and in order to travel to find that kind of competition would be a big financial burden on the program."
Even if the university received a huge influx of money, say from boosters and alumni, there's the mandate of gender equity. Barker says "if we added 100 men into our programs, which is about the amount of a football team, we would probably have to add about three women's sports to counter that."
Those programs would require even more money, and money is the name of the game for Chico State and football. That's why the Chico State stadium will remain empty for many more Saturday afternoons.
Since football was dropped, Chico State's other sports have captured 31 conference titles, produced 82 post season berths and earned a spot in the NCAA championships 76 times. Teams and individuals have brought home 13 national titles since 1997.