One score minus two years ago, the UCSB athletic department brought forth upon Santa Barbara a newly reinstated Gaucho football team, conceived by lock-in fees and dedicated to the hope that someday the Gauchos could attain national athletic eminence.
Madonna lived a material world in the 1980s, Reagan envisioned star wars and UCSB played intercollegiate football at Harder Stadium for the first time since the Nixon administration.
In 1986, students at UC Santa Barbara approved a $1.50 per quarter lock-in fee to help provide $65,000 each year to the UCSB football club team in an effort to generate additional revenue from the community to spur an intercollegiate Division III level program. Then, on Sept. 27, UCSB quarterback Paul Wright torched a school-record 331 passing yards and four touchdown passes, leading Santa Barbara to 28-15 victory over Pomona-Pitzer in the first intercollegiate football game at Harder Stadium in 15 years.
Throughout the rest of the decade and until 1991, Saturday activities in Isla Vista included the pigskin tradition. The Gauchos competed as a non-scholarship independent at the D-III level, playing mostly Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Colleges (SCIAC), including Whittier, Redlands and Occidental, Northern California Intercollegiate Athletic Colleges (NCIAC) such as Chico State and Sonoma State.
“Football was moderately popular in the first year because of the novelty,” UCSB Media Relations Director Bill Mahoney said. “But it never really caught hold with the students because I think it was tough for them to get excited about teams like Sonoma State.”
Mahoney said the university tried changing the times for the games but that didn’t change the attendance figures. Harder Stadium has a 17,000-person capacity and Mahoney said that the largest turn out he could remember was 9,000 people – a little over half of the maximum. To put things in perspective, UCSB men’s soccer has averaged about 1,300 students to soccer games since school began.
Losing money and interest, Santa Barbara cut the program in 1991 when the NCAA forced all university intercollegiate sports teams to compete at the same division level. Football was the only non-Division I program at UCSB, prompting a decision to permanently cut the program in order to comply with the new rule.
A student lock-in fee of $20 per quarter was considered in 1991 but ultimately failed. The undergraduate student portion of the initiative actually passed the vote but the votes of the graduate students swayed the no vote.
Football was transformed at UCSB in the 1980s, but many things defined the decade.
“I think the hiring of Jerry Pimm as head basketball coach was as important as any other story,” Mahoney said.
Pimm stepped into the helm during the 1983-84 season when UCSB men’s basketball was in shambles, plagued with seven straight losing seasons and trapped in a conference with growing prestige and rising talent. Over the better part of the next decade, Pimm restored success and elevated basketball to a pinnacle that has not been realized since. The glory days of Carrick DeHart and Brian Shaw were highlights in the Pimm dynasty.
The success transferred over to the women’s basketball side when Mark French was hired in 1988. French has gone onto to be one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the nation. The Gauchos are going for their 10th straight Big West Championship this season.
The 1980s laid the groundwork for the athletic success in the future, putting Santa Barbara on the map not only regionally, but also nationally.