You have all heard the complaints about UC Irvine’s lack of a football program. For such a large, successful school, and one competing at the Division I level in athletics, people can’t seem to grasp why we don’t have a football team. Curious, I set out to learn what held our school’s founding fathers back from starting one at the school’s inception.
When UCI was first established in 1965 it only had 1,000 students, but its founding chancellor, Daniel Aldrich, was committed to establishing a strong athletics program from the very beginning.
‘Our first Chacellor, Daniel Aldrich, was very vigorous and very much himself involved in sports,’said Jack Peltason, who was vice chancellor of academic affairs at UCI from 1964 to 1967. ‘[Aldrich] favored an active intercollegiate program which was balanced, but vigorous.’
Shortly after the school was established, Aldrich and others in the UCI community became curious about when UCI would have a football team.
After the death of UCI’s original athletics director, Wayne Crawford, Raymond Thorton was named as his successor. Thorton put together a budget to see what it would cost the school to start a football program.
‘[Thorton] actually researched and proposed a budget on football,’ said former UCI basketball coach Tim Tift. ‘I remember even seeing it. It had the price of uniforms and pads… the salaries of coaches, etc.’
The total cost just to start up the program was around $500,000, a significant sum in the 1960s.
‘He did this budget to say, ‘ok, you guys that want football, do you have half a million right up front?’ And a half a million in 1967 is like $10 million now. It was almost as if he was saying, ‘You see, this is really not feasible,’ Tift said.
Because of the intricacies of scheduling college football, UCI would not have started out playing against top-flight competition.
‘Even in those days they were scheduling two to five years in advance,’ Tift added. ‘[Thorton] said at the booster meetings, ‘You guys that want us to play USC and UCLA. This is not gonna happen because their schedules are full five years from now so we’d be playing [schools like] UC Riverside, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, who all have since dropped football except for probably Davis.’
Peltason shared Tift’s reservations. ‘Who would you play? We didn’t have the resources to get into the Pac 10.’
At the outset of UCI’s participation in intercollegiate athletics, funding was scarce even for teams that were already competing.
‘[All the coaches] said, ‘How can we do this? We can’t even get money to recruit. How can we start a football program?’ Tift said. ‘So it really never got going.’
UCI was always going to be a school based on academic performance.
‘The plan was always for Irvine to be a comprehensive big state, research-oriented university,’ Peltason said. ‘Up to that time there weren’t any examples of those kinds of Universities that didn’t have a football team.’
When Peltason returned to UCI as Chancellor in 1984, he recalls students trying to pass an initiative