The Most Untapped Potential FBS Football Team…Zot!

Located in the safest city in the USA, in the generally ranked, top county in the USA, bordering some of the nicest and most sought after cities to live in worldwide, sits the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

UCI was founded in 1965 and was named after James Irvine, founder of what would become the Irvine Company, and the first of the Irvine Family members to own the Irvine Ranch.

The Irvine Company was officially incorporated in 1894 by James Irvine II, but it was James Irvine and various partners who would buy three Californio owned Mexican and Spanish land grants/ranchos and combine these into one ranch, the Irvine Ranch.

As such, the campus of UCI sits on the Irvine Ranch, and was originally not in any incorporated city. The Irvine Company would sale 1,000 acres of land to the University of California (UC system) for $1.00 in 1960, and then would sale an additional 510 acres by 1964. UCI has gotten even bigger since then.

In 1971, the City of Irvine was incorporated to include UCI. There had been an unincorporated town called Irvine, in present-day Old Town Irvine, and this would become part of the city.

Yet, the location of UCI being in Irvine does not really tell the whole story, rather, UCI sits on the border with Newport Beach, and being in Irvine, is close to many more communities like Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Laguna Beach, and others. All of these cities are among the most sought after and wealthiest cities in the World. And why is this important? With the new NLI rules, potential UCI student-athletes would be able to benefit off of local donors and major companies. With no current FBS level university in Orange County, a UCI football team in FBS would make many of the companies eager to put UCI as Orange County’s premier athletic institution. This county already features more than 3 million people, while Irvine alone features more than 270,000, on the cusp of 300,000. Cal State Fullerton used to have FBS Football until 1992, and had planned to bring back football as an FCS level team, but never did. Long Beach State, while not in Orange County, Long Beach borders Orange County, and they also had an FBS team until 1991. However, since the 1990s, the only 4 year college football Orange County has is Chapman University and they are Division 3 program (which is still good and they have top notch facilities, but it is not FBS).

And, this location would not only be brilliant for attracting lots of money, but also would be for recruiting! Orange County boasts some of the best High School Football in the country with five of the six Trinity League schools located in Orange County, most notably Mater Dei High School, along with J Serra, Santa Margarita, Servite, and Orange Lutheran high schools. The other Trinity League School, St. John Bosco High School, is not too far away either. And this is not even taking into effect other big name schools like Mission Viejo High School, Edison High School, La Habra High School, Los Alamitos High School, and nearby Long Beach Poly High School and Corona Centennial High School. There are so many more in the greater region and in Orange County itself that would feed into UCI. Then, when looking at junior college football, Orange County boasts Orange Coast College, Saddleback College, Santa Ana College, Golden West College, and Fullerton College. When you include nearby junior colleges in Los Angeles County like Long Beach City College, LA Harbor College, El Camino College, and Cerritos College, you start to realize just how many athletes UCI can recruit from for football. And in football, having junior college transfers is very beneficial as experience, age, and size is important in football, more so than in many other sports, and thus having a plethora of players with two to possibly three years of experience at your disposal would be key to creating a successful football team from the start. Not to mention all of this, but with the transfer portal and new transfer rules, UCI’s location and potential would definitely be able to get even more ready made talent, thus bypassing the strict academic requirements to get into the university from high school that often holds back highly selective academic schools when recruiting top tier athletes. And, the fact that UCI is ranked top ten for public universities in the USA, and is consistently ranking higher and higher in world rankings, this will be an advantage in recruiting.

Already, UCI is a fan favorite. UCI is the third most applied to school, with a school population of over 35,000 students. UCI has been noted for their mascot, Peter the Anteater, and their nickname, the Anteaters, especially when they make runs in the NCAA Tournaments for baseball and basketball. And, while Orange County football fans often split between supporting UCLA or USC, they tend to have a soft spot for UCI, and tend to wish UCI had football.

And, UCI’s potential in athletics has already been reached in numerous of sports, reaching the Round of 32 as a Big West school in men’s basketball, reaching the College World Series three times in baseball, and winning three men’s water polo and four men’s volleyball national championships! They have performed well in other sports too. Imagine it they were in a FBS Conference or had a FBS team? They would get even better recruits and be able to compete against the best teams even more often because more recruits would want to come a school that was in a top conference.

The only thing holding UCI back would be the lack of a stadium, although there are nearby stadiums that could be used temporarily, or even permanently like Angels Stadium which is used for high school football a lot, or local high school stadiums, or even some local college stadiums like Orange Coast College or Cal State Fullerton’s old stadium, although this may be awkward given the two are rivals. With FBS having a 15,000 capacity minimum, Angels Stadium would be the closest stadium that could fit this demand. While UCI is around 16 miles from Angel Stadium, its medical school is only 1.2 miles away. And, if UCI was not going to use an FBS 15,000 seat minimum stadium, UCI could just use nearby University High School Football Stadium or their own Anteater Stadium that they use for track and field and other sports like soccer or Anteater Ballpark that they use for baseball (however, both of these hold less than 3,000 people). Or they could set up temporary stands like they do for the LA Rams training camps in August on their ample field space that has seen 10,000+ attendances on a single day. As the team becomes more situated, a more permanent solution would probably be needed, but at a university known for good engineering and architecture, in a city that was planned and thus is good with infrastructure, and at a university with lots of open space, the prospects of putting in a 30,000 seat stadium would be highly realistic and attainable. Plus, with a one billion dollar endowment, UCI has the money.

A few other key points is that UCI is only ten minutes from the beach (drawing even more recruits), has a nearby commercial airport, and is full of hotels that can be used for football meetings away teams need for game day, and yes, that home teams use as well. It also a ready made training table at their University Club where they have very healthy and fancy dining. They may even rival their brothers north of them, UCLA, on really healthy and good football food. So, it has things needed for football like the hotels, airport, and the training table while it also has things people desire like proximity to the ocean and a commercial airport so they can get in and out. UCI is also around 16 miles from Disney Land, and there are other fun things to do around that would entice college athletes like Knott’s Berry Farm.

While Cal State Fullerton may have the stadium and history, UCI has the best potential. UCI generates over 4 billion dollars a year for Orange County and that is without football. Imagine how much bigger UCI would become with football, especially FBS Football. This would help out both the UCI and Orange County economy.

UCI would have a great chance at dominating in football but regardless of how well they do in football, they will give a greater opportunity to local players and they will provide lots of funds for the other sports if they were to get a football team. This is an important point because universities are supposed to provide a local service to their population around them, and being such a selective school can sometimes make UCI almost unpopular. But, imagine if they were to give 60 local kids or so a chance to play FBS football? It would provide a service to the local population. And it would also provide entertainment too, because at the highest level of football, you can expect to see big name teams and big fan bases come to town. Imagine USC or UCLA playing at UCI, or further away schools like Air Force or Notre Dame playing at UCI. Football will definitely be a risk and reward setup, but they have enough money to try it out, and they have enough support to try it out.

That leaves us with the speculation as to what UCI should do and I think there are some enticing choices. One, they could stay in the Big West, but be independent for football. This may actually allow them to become even more dominant in basketball than they have been recently, and being in the Big West has been a big plus for their other sports as the Big West is elite in sports like baseball and volleyball, and UCI plays in the MPSF for sports like water polo, so they get elite competition there too. In basketball, we see this setup with teams like BYU and Hawaii who play FBS football, but play in conferences that do not have FBS football, but their athletic prestige of having a FBS team often propels them to be able to compete with the best. They may not win their conferences, but they are consistently really good. UCI could join the Mountain West potentially, maybe just for football like Hawaii, or maybe for all sports, however I feel like there is an even better conference for UCI. I think this is definitely the most jntriguing, because I think UCI would be a great fit for the Pac-12. It may be best for UCI to be independent at first and stay in the Big West, but after two transition years, I think joining the Pac-12 would do wonders for UCI. Already, it competes at an elite level, and draws big crowds for sports like volleyball, water polo, and baseball (relatively speaking), but imagine if they were playing big name teams every week. Not only would their athletes be more elite, they would be playing more elite athletes. That would increase attendances, and increase overall level of play. UCI fits in well with what the Pac-12 looks for in a school. They may not fit in completely well for sports yet, but given that UCI has only been around since 1965 and has only played Division 1 sports since the 1970s, they have actually done quite well. Plus, their sports has been rapidly improving as of late.

However, it would be difficult for UCI not to have their old rivalries anymore, at least not in conference games. No more Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton Big West games. That would be difficult. And that may be why the Independent option or the Mountain West football only option may be best. But, UCI already had to say goodbye to old rivals once when they moved up to Division 1, and maybe it is time to move into a major conference. Either way, no matter how UCI does it, having the Anteaters play FBS football would be very fun to watch, and just maybe, it might see UCI dominate the nation like they have been able to do in other sports. And to those that think that FBS football may be too soon, check out UTSA and Charlotte who made the jump from nothing to FBS with very little time spent in FCS. It can be done, and returns on investment can be seen often within years of the decision. Plus, it has really improved the look of UTSA and its name recognition, especially since like Orange County, San Antonio had no FBS football team, nor did they have a NFL team (although, Orange County has the Chargers who practice there).


Published by CK 22

I like history, politics, foreign diplomacy, sports, and more. Basically, the most popular things, plus also geography.

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