Officially, the Chico State listed as the next opponent for the No. 5 USC Aiken men's basketball team in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division II Tournament doesn't exist.
The school's actual name is California State University, Chico, but sports information director Luke Reid said that the school is more widely known as Chico State, the name on the school's athletic uniforms.
He said the name discrepancy is a result of a bit of bureaucracy.
“Only because the NCAA won't let us change it, because we all go by Chico State,” Reid said.
The college began operating as Chico Normal School in 1889 before changing its name to Chico State Teachers College in 1921. It was then actually named Chico State College from 1935 to 1971, but its name has been CSU, Chico, ever since.
Reid said that in his 10 years at the school, Chico's enrollment has experienced the usual ebbs and flows, but the athletic department has seen increased success since the athletic department decided to drop football in 1996. At that time, the Wildcat athletic programs – which now compete in the California Collegiate Athletic Association at the conference level – began offering athletic scholarships.
That has resulted in numerous NCAA Championship appearances, 10 straight national top-10 finishes for the men's cross country team, 11 for the women and a pair of national baseball championships.
“Basically our athletic director ... developed a plan to grow all our programs together,” Reid said of a process that has continued under current athletic director Anita Barker.
The men's basketball Wildcats, who were seeded fourth in West Regional held at CSU, San Bernandino, are making the trip to Evansville, Ind., for their first Elite Eight appearance. Reid said that has “really excited” the city of Chico. Located about 90 miles north of Sacramento with a population of roughly 86,000, Chico has the Wildcats as the “only show in town outside of high school stuff,” which adds to the investment in the team's success.
“I'd say that the town is getting amped up about it,” Reid said of the trip.
The city also boasts Bidwell Park, a 3,670-acre municipal park that started on land donated by Annie Bidwell. She was the widow of John Bidwell, the town's founder, who also donated the 8-acre cherry farm on which Chico Normal School began.
In addition, Sierra Nevada Brewery is located in Chico. The company's 19 beer varieties are distributed nationwide, making Sierra Nevada another of Chico's most recognizable features.
“That's definitely a big part of what Chico is famous for,” Reid said.
The Pacers (32-3) and Wildcats (25-7) are set to tip on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
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