The past week was an especially disheartening time to be a San Diego Chargers fan. A 36-29 loss to the rival Oakland Raiders, which opened with San Diego in a 30-3 hole, was the proverbial salt in the wound after the organization’s brass filed paperwork to explore relocation to Los Angeles.
For those unfamiliar with the dynamics between San Diego and Los Angeles, this is akin to your significant other dumping you and immediately hooking up with your mortal enemy.
But the same week the Chargers moving to LA took a step toward inevitability, San Diego’s other football team scored one of the most impressive victories in the program’s recent history.
San Diego State blasted Mountain West Conference counterpart Utah State Friday night, 48-14, taking another step toward the Aztecs’ first league title game. They also took over the driver’s seat for hosting the Mountain West Championship Game, now boasting the conference’s only unblemished record.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 24, 2015
If you missed San Diego State’s deconstruction of Utah State, don’t worry. Several thousand in San Diego skipped the game, evidenced by the sea of empty, blue seats at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego has a reputation as a lackluster sports city, and it’s somewhat deserved. The thousands of empty seats for San Diego State’s showdown with Mountain division leader Utah State captures the city’s occasional indifference to its teams.
But to paint the Chargers moving to LA as the fault of the fan base is misguided. The Chargers have considerable fan support more a populace that, much like the rest of America, loves football.
The football void the Chargers leaving creates opens a spot for San Diego State to establish itself as the city’s football team. And San Diego has proven itself willing to back a collegiate program with the same vigor as the 2006 and 2007 Padres, which regularly played in front of a packed Petco Park, or the Chargers.
In the late 2000s, just before Steve Fisher had San Diego State basketball appearing in the NCAA Tournament and Top 25 annually, the empty seats at Viejas (then Cox) Arena proportionally matched Qualcomm Stadium on a San Diego State football game day.
Now, a seat at an Aztec basketball game is tough to come by.
Wins like Fridays rout of Utah State lay the foundation for San Diego State football to gain more local interest a la the basketball program. The Aztecs need more of these signature victories, and fewer lapses like the home defeat to South Alabama last month.
That makes the final month of San Diego State’s regular season especially crucial. While the Aztecs have the West division close to wrapped up, maintaining their edge on hosting the Mountain West Championship Game shows a measure of progress unseen since Brady Hoke got San Diego State to its first bowl game in 12 years in 2010.
Saturday’s tilt at Colorado State is the quintessential San Diego State letdown game. Winning in Fort Collins is potentially pivotal for the direction of a program with one of the highest ceilings in college football.
Situated in a recruiting hotbed, boasting a beautiful campus in America’s Finest City, there’s no reason San Diego State couldn’t be (or shouldn’t be) a Group of Five powerhouse in the vein of Boise State.
Perhaps the single greatest hurdle is the same sticking point likely sending the Chargers to Los Angeles: Qualcomm Stadium.
Qualcomm Stadium is indeed dilapidated, and at the heart of some of San Diego State football’s issues gaining traction with fans. So long as the Chargers remain in San Diego, SDSU is tied to the venue in its current state.
Chargers brass are holding their hands out to the public, demanding the same public welfare other cities have been coerced into turning over for NFL stadium. In a city with major budgetary issues, that’s especially heinous. San Diego State needn’t make any such demands to retrofit Qualcomm to its specifications.
San Diego State doesn’t require 75,000 seats. The upper deck is covered by a tarp for most Aztec home games as is, so the top level can be removed. A 35,0000-40,000-seat venue better fits SDSU’s needs. Aesthetically, everything about the venue currently screams RENTERS! when the Aztecs play. Even the helmet logo painted over the Chargers’ lighting bolt at midfield is outdated.
Building a true, home atmosphere at The Q would do San Diego State football wonders.
And, because Qualcomm would then be San Diego State’s true home — not the Chargers’ — SDSU would no longer be subject to the ongoing battle the NFL franchise is fighting with the public. While remedying some of The Q’s issues requires a massive undertaking, simple fixes like the antiquated video board have been neglected.
No football stadium should have a “Jumbo”tron not much larger than commercially available flat-screens.
Ultimately, the key catalyst for San Diego State football taking off is to just win. A conference title is a huge step in that direction, and the coming the same year as the Chargers moving to LA could only further accelerate the program’s rise.