The past and future of Chico State football


Chico State running back Glenn Witherspoon takes a handoff during the 19787 season. Image from The Orion vault.

1997 marked the final year for Chico State football. The players hung up their uniforms one last time and walked out of the locker room. The cancellation of the football team was sad at the time, but could’ve been just what the Chico State athletics program needed.

Despite wide protest, the football program at Chico State was eliminated about 21 years ago. The reasons were both financial and practical, according to Chico State athletic director Anita Barker.

“We really didn’t have any competition in the West for Division II, and budgetarily, it became impossible for us to continue to have a football program,” Barker said.

Former Chico State running back Vince Remund eludes a tackler during the 1987 season. Image from The Orion vault.

While Barker wasn’t athletic director at the time, she was on the staff that decided to end the football program, and fully supported cutting the program. She, like many others, didn’t think the football team had enough competition to keep it going.

“I think the leadership made the best decision that we could have, and I think they held onto football as long as we possibly could,” Barker said. “When the decision was made to eliminate football in that year, two other CSU schools, Sonoma State and San Francisco State also dropped football in that year, and no other teams in our conference at the time played football.”

A Chico State wide receiver gets past the defense during a game in 1987. Image from The Orion vault.

From Barker’s perspective, it was clear she was making an unpopular decision, but one that would help the school, nonetheless. By eliminating the football program, Chico State was able to make some positive changes to the athletic department.

“We went back to the students and promised that we would maintain the number of student-athletes that were involved with our program,” Barker said. “We increased roster sizes, and added men’s and women’s golf back.”

Chico State attempts to make a goal-line stand during the 1987 season. Image from The Orion vault.

Cutting football for budgetary reasons is popular among division II and III colleges, due to its extremely high cost to run, and lack of revenue it generates. In fact, in the West alone, Western Washington and Humboldt State have both shut down their football programs in the last few years.

Even according to the NCAA’s own website, when discussing division II football, “The net expense (i.e., total expenses minus generated revenues) to the median football institution was approximately $4.5 million versus $3.6 million at non-football institutions.”

The athletics expenses of schools with and without a division II football team. Photo courtesy of

This money can add up, especially for a team that doesn’t have any competition. And while division II football has grown bigger since 1997, it still has very little competition in the West, as most new teams formed in the Midwest and East.

The future of Chico State football does not look bright, for this reason, and will likely remain just a wish for football fans here in Chico.

A Chico State player carries the ball downfield during a game in 1987. Image from The Orion vault.

“I don’t think it’s in our foreseeable future,” Barker said. “We don’t have the competition in our area and that makes it fiscally irresponsible for us to add football. The amount of money that we would need for our budget is in the tens of millions of dollars and that’s just not practical for this institution right now.”

While many may not like it, eliminating the football team seemed to be a necessity for the athletics department back in 1997. Due to a low budget and limited competition, it was more useful to spend the money elsewhere. Now, Chico State would have even less competition, with no more money than before, and the football team will likely stay as just a fantasy.

Connor McPherson can be reached at [email protected] or @theGOATMcphers1 on Twitter.