I’ve been at Cal Poly for two years now and the lack of interest in Cal Poly athletics is astounding to me.
This is a very active campus. There are constantly people jogging, working out at the Recreation Center, hiking up Bishop Peak and so on. Intramural sports are pretty big at Cal Poly as well. So why aren’t the bleachers filled to watch our third-ranked football team or top-25 volleyball team? The baseball and softball teams were both on the fringe of making the NCAA Tournament, but neither team saw major crowd support last year.
What’s the deal? I think the solution is simple: education. Many students have no idea what Cal Poly athletics are all about, and I intend to fix that. Here are five things you need to know about Cal Poly athletics this fall:
1. The Mustangs run with the Longhorns and Bruins
“What division is Cal Poly? Like, three or something? And who do we play against? Like, California State Technical University A&M or what? I mean I bet I could try out and make one of these teams.”
That’s what the average Cal Poly student probably thinks – I mean, just the school name seems to warrant a sub-par athletic program: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
However, the average Cal Poly student is misinformed. Cal Poly is a Division I school, the upper echelon of collegiate athletics.
Not a sports literate? No problem. Here’s an analogy that’s sure to make some sense of this whole “Division I” mumbo-jumbo.
There are four levels of collegiate competition: NCAA Divisions I, II and III and then NAIA. Think of the NAIA as the Goodwill or Salvation Army of the fashion world. Next, you’ve got Division III, equivalent to Mervyn’s or Ross – it’s for the bargain shoppers, such as myself. Division II is something closer to Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister, a relatively cheap (compared to designer clothing) brand name store. And finally comes Division I, the Gucci and Louis Vuitton of college athletics.
Of course the trendiest, most expensive clothing isn’t always the best but it is the standard against which other attire is measured.
In the grand scheme of things, Cal Poly is on the same playing field as UCLA, USC, Duke, Texas and so on.
2. Cal Poly football is Division I-AA
OK, so I lied a bit.
The top division of NCAA football is split into two sections – I-A and I-AA. Cal Poly plays in I-AA along with other schools who have a competitive disadvantage in football. With a roster size of 55, college football requires a disproportional amount of funds compared to other sports. Schools that can afford to compete at the highest level are pooled into I-A.
Down the road, if Cal Poly wanted to, it could petition to become a I-A school, but certain standards for attendance and scholarships would need to be met.
That said, the football team is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation in Division I-AA. Last year the Mustangs made the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs – that’s right, I-AA uses a playoff system to figure out who its national champion is as opposed to the Bowl Championship Series system at the I-A level.
3. Conference opponents
Cal Poly plays in the Big West Conference, an all-California conference. Opponents include: Cal State Northridge, University of the Pacific, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and our rival, UC Santa Barbara. As of next year, UC Davis will also be a member of the Big West.
The Big West doesn’t have a football division. Only UC Davis and Cal Poly have football teams and they compete in the Great West Football Conference, which also includes Southern Utah, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
The same goes for wrestling, which competes in the Pacific-10.
That leaves cross country, track and field, volleyball, tennis, baseball, softball, basketball, swimming, golf and soccer in the Big West.
4. Cal Poly is competitive on the national level
When March Madness rolls around, Cal Poly’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have a chance to make the tournament field. The baseball and softball teams, both of which have been snubbed by NCAA selection committees in recent years, have a shot to play in the College World Series. Although realistically this isn’t the case, Cal Poly’s teams all have a chance to win national championships.
No Cal Poly team has won a national championship since the school moved to Division I in 1994, but there is an individual among us who won the high jump at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships as a sophomore in 2005 – Sharon Day.
Cal Poly boasts several top-25 nationally-ranked teams. Currently the football and volleyball squads are noted in the polls while the cross-country team is on the brink following a disappointing season last year. The cross country team won the Big West for a third straight year, but didn’t qualify for nationals after finishing No. 10 in 2005.
The wrestling team is also top notch. Last year the Mustangs’ Chad Mendes placed sixth at the national championships and earned All-American honors. As a team, Cal Poly finished No. 23.
The softball, women’s soccer and baseball teams also sit on the edge of the top-25 polls. Last year the women’s soccer team saw time in the top-25.
Also, six Mustang baseball players were taken in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the highest being pitcher Gary Daley Jr., who went in the third round.
Cal Poly southpaw Garrett Olson was a supplemental first-round choice of the Baltimore Orioles the year before.
Make no joke about it, the athletes on this campus are in an elite class.
5. Students admitted for free
Games are free with a student ID card, so why not check a game or two out? Schedules can be found around campus as well as at www.gopoly.com.