Is It Time for San Jose St. to Consider a Name Change to California St?
Four years ago I wrote about the marketing impact in college sports of schools opting for name changes. I briefly touched on some of the trends we had seen such as schools in urban areas dropped the “state” such as the transformation of Memphis St. University to University of Memphis. But the area that seems most beneficial is when schools are able to drop their directional nomenclature such as Southwestern Texas State becoming Texas St. and Southwest Missouri St. becoming Missouri St. The adoption of “YOUR SCHOOL” + “STATE” is one that only so many schools can actually have…it’s something that is coveted. As as we’ve seen, there are often political barriers that make such name changes difficult. Look no further than the transformations at Southwest Louisiana and Northeast Louisiana. One had a goal of becoming University of Louisiana, but in the end, the only change that was approved was for each school to adopt the title followed by their city. So we then saw the birth of University of Louisiana – Lafayette and Louisiana – Monroe.
On the west coast, we have an even more interesting situation in California.
California has a number of schools in the University of California system, with the flagship being in Berkley. The school goes by the nickname “Cal” but is recognized as California. All the other University of California system schools abide by the “UC” and city initials, such as UCLA, UCSB, etc.
The bulk of the the other California public universities are part of the California State University system. But the structure they take can be more confusing. In some cases, schools are recognized by with a “Cal St” or “CSU” followed by the city. Cal St – Northridge is a prime example. But then there are other schools who have opted for a different naming structure with the CITY and “State”. A number of schools fit this bill such as Fresno St., San Diego St., both in the FBS Mountain West conference. This system is also adopted by Sacramento St., an FCS school in the Big Sky and Long Beach St. in the Big West. Even Cal St. or CSU-Fullerton goes through some confusing naming with at times people referring to them as Fullerton St.
But this leads to the issue of San Jose St.
San Jose St. has been a WAC member, plays FBS football, and right now is one of the forgotten schools, left behind in the WAC following the Mountain West Conference raid that brought in Boise St., Nevada, Fresno St., and Hawaii (football only). A few months ago, San Jose St. was somewhat in the mix for a final MWC spot when the conference was considering expansion to 12 to have a football championship game. The potential inclusion of San Jose St. was less a desire of the MWC, but more by the MWC TV partner, Comcast, which has a large subscriber base in the Bay Area. Ultimately, the MWC passed on adding Utah St. and San Jose St. and will remain at 12.
But when it comes to San Jose St., perhaps a name change could be enough to give them a much needed boost.
San Jose St. hasn’t had as much success on the field and on the basketball court, the two sports that generate the most revenue for schools. Both sports also serve as important branding methods in getting the name of the school out there to potential students seeking enrollment. It’s a life long fact that success in both sports has often triggered a boost in enrollment the following year.
But success isn’t necessarily the only factor here.
The actual name of a school can carry weight. As we’ve seen with Texas St. and Missouri St. in recent years, there has been a noticeable brand boost to both schools. The psychology behind it comes back to the human element of exclusivity: in being the official flagship school of the state in peoples minds, there is a legitimacy added to the mindset.
So for San Jose St., the question is, why hasn’t the California State University system opted to give the same benefit to it’s flagship school, San Jose St., that the University of California system has given to it’s school in Berkley?
In 2007, the San Jose St. students had the opportunity to vote on a name change. But let’s not get carried away here: the name change proposal was to change from San Jose St. to CSU-San Jose or Cal St. San Jose. Not exactly a homerun and easy to see why the change ultimately never went through.
But in taking the move a step further, I think you’d find most people in agreement: is San Jose St. were renamed California St., it would be a “win” for the school in all areas such as branding and perception.
College sports would also benefit. It’s not a stretch to think that a coach recruiting in another state would have a better sell if they could tell the athlete and his parents, “your child will be attending California St.” as opposed to San Jose St. From a broadcast perspective, “California St.” has a much broader appeal than “San Jose St”. San Jose St. might be the pride for a select few in the city of San Jose. But a California St. brand would carry over into the entire Bay Area and south to Los Angeles…and the rest of the country.
The reason why San Jose St., the flagship school of the California State University system, hasn’t gone through this change is the same problem we’ve seen in many other states: politics. But perhaps it’s time for the CSU system to realize the benefits. San Jose St. is the only FBS level school left on it’s own, without any other Cal St. schools, and in the lowest FBS conference (WAC). A name change might not boost a move to the MWC or other higher conference. But it would allow the system to maximize the schools presence where they currently are.