Dude, Where's My Football?

    Triton football. It has a nice ring to it. It sounds … almost natural. So, what happened?

    Melissa Chow

    It seems each incoming freshman class arrives with questions about the lack of a football team at UCSD, and most of these questions go unanswered because very few know the chain of events that has led UCSD athletics all the way to Division II without a football program.

    The UCSD athletic department has had its hands full in recent years with its transition to the more competitive Division II, and the discussion of a UCSD football team seems to have faded into the ether. Most of what is going around now regarding the history of football at UCSD are vague half-truths and rumors.

    Here are the facts: Triton football was once a reality. There have been numerous attempts to bring football back to UCSD in some way, shape or form, all of which were unsuccessful. The only full-contact football being played at UCSD these days is Chargers preseason practice. The outlook for a UCSD athletics-run Triton football program happening in the near future is grim.

    Here at UCSD, the ghost of football past is a tormented soul, indeed. Back in the fall of 1968 is when the hallowed story of Triton football begins.

    And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from head coach Walt Hackett that any with a brave enough heart come out and join the newly instated Triton football team.

    The team was formed, and it played its first game against the University of La Verne. The mighty Tritons fell 41-6. Next came the perennial division powerhouse, Cal Lutheran University. The mighty Tritons fell 56-8. These scores pretty well characterize the mighty Tritons’ entire 0-7 inaugural season.

    The real humiliation though was UCSD’s game against Cal Tech. At that time, the Cal Tech football team was the bottom of the barrel. It was so bad, it literally hadn’t won a game in years. Though it was close (the only close game of the season for UCSD), the diminutive Tritons fell 34-31. Rumor has it there were parties at Cal Tech for years after on the anniversary of the win.

    Apparently the humiliation was just too much, and UCSD football was scrapped at the end of the ’68-’69 academic year.

    There was an effort to bring the team back for the fall 1971 season, but it has met with lackluster support, and the effort fizzled. That was pretty much it for Triton football until the late ’80s, when there again was a push to bring the gridiron back to UCSD.

    According to Bill Gannon, sports information director at UCSD, the A.S. Council put three referendums on the ballot. There was one each in 1987, 1989 and 1994, all of which provided for a small increase in student fees to fund a football team.

    He said that all of the referenda were officially supported by the athletic department and each garnered about 60 percent of the vote. None of them, however, passed. This is because two of the referendums needed a two-thirds vote, and the other required that 20 percent of the undergraduate population vote in order to form a quorum, which it did not.

    After that, the focus of the athletic department moved from football to the transition to Division II.

    “”The idea of a football program here pretty much died when the athletic department realized that Division III didn’t make any more sense,”” Gannon said. “”No [Division II] schools but Davis has a team … and no Division III schools would play us anymore.””

    That didn’t stop some UCSD students in 1997 from starting a football club team on their own.

    The UCSD football club team was organized by students who simply wanted to play. The founders of the team manned tables in the Price Center and in front of Center Hall to recruit students to be on the team.

    According to early football club member Richard Downing, who graduated from Roosevelt College in 1998, their recruitment and organizational efforts met with some success and some hardship in the beginning.

    “”Overall we had a lot of support from the student body and even some of the administration,”” Downing said. “”But at times it could get pretty frustrating when we’d hear students laughing, or when people would come up to the table and ask ‘Is this a joke?'””

    The team received little funding from the school, and the players had to pay for almost all the expenses.

    The club ended up playing two games — one in 1997 and one in 1998, both against Cal Lutheran University.

    The 1997 game featured a Triton squad 35-strong and ended with UCSD losing 0-66.

    According to former club team member Brian Halderson, who graduated from Warren College in 1999, they came expecting to play third- and fourth-stringers from Cal Lu.

    “”I guess they thought we would be bringing out a bunch of ringers, so we ended up playing their first string the first half,”” he said. “”The second half wasn’t nearly as bad [as the first].””

    The second game also ended with a Triton shutout, but the margin was not nearly as wide, with Cal Lu coming out on top 35-0.

    After its original organizers graduated, the UCSD football club did not return in 1999, and there has been no UCSD full-contact football team since.

    The future of football at UCSD is unclear, at best.

    Since the move to Division II, the lack of football programs at this level make it very difficult to find teams to play without getting on an airplane for most of the away games.

    “”There are far more teams dropping football than adding,”” said Regina Sullivan, associate athletics director at UCSD.

    Also, federal Title IX regulations mandate that athletic participation be representative of the student population in terms of the proportion of men to women.

    According to Sullivan, that would entail adding three women’s sports, which would make the financial burden even higher.

    It seems the only way football could come back to UCSD in the near future would be in the form of another club team, which has its own drawbacks, mainly being the high costs of equipment and liability insurance.

    “”The money can be raised,”” Halderson said. “”The equipment can be bought. The fields are there. If like 60 students who wanted to play just got together and said, ‘We want to play football,’ it would happen.””

    Downing believes it’s just a question of motivation: “”Do the people who want it want it bad enough?””

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