A Brief History Of SCIAC Football: Teams, Titles and All You Need To Know

A Brief History Of SCIAC Football: Teams, Titles and All You Need To Know

The SCIAC, the only football-playing conference in any NCAA division to consist solely of California schools, is prepping for another season on the gridiron

Jun 10, 2024 by Briar Napier

In an era of college athletics where some of the West Coast’s most iconic schools have thrown regionality by the wayside, a league that proudly calls southern California home has seen its members battling among each other for football championships since the early 1940s.

And they’ve been evolving how they do things, too.

The SCIAC, the only football-playing conference in any NCAA division to consist solely of California schools, is prepping for yet another season on the gridiron in the fall with programs in the football-crazed SoCal region — and the conference is prepping for Year 2 of a rarity below the NCAA Division I level by way of an end-of-season league championship game. 

What the SCIAC lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in late-season drama, pride, and passion as the schools in the conference have been fielding football teams for decades. And if you want college football in arguably its most pure form, especially as conference realignment wreaks havoc on the highest levels of the sport, look no further.

Here’s a look ahead at all you need to know about the SCIAC football scene in advance of the 2024 college football season this fall:

What is the SCIAC? 

The SCIAC is the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, founded in 1915 and currently consisting of member schools located — as the name implies — in southern California. 

A NCAA Division III league, it was formerly the home conference in brief stints for now D-I programs UCLA (from 1920-27), San Diego State (1926-39), and UC Santa Barbara (1932-38), but is now the athletic home of nine small private colleges. The conference sponsors 10 men’s and 11 women’s sports. 

Which schools are in the SCIAC?

The SCIAC’s nine full members are the California Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Caltech), California Lutheran, Chapman, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, La Verne, Occidental, Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands and Whittier. 

Of that group, only Caltech, Occidental, and Whitter do not play football, though all three schools used to field teams on the gridiron as Caltech axed its program in 1993, Occidental in 2020, and Whitter in 2022. Also, Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps are both athletic co-ops of the five private schools in the Los Angeles suburb of Claremont, with the two joint ventures existing in their current forms since 1971 and 1976, respectively. 

How long has the SCIAC been playing football?

SCIAC schools have been competing for a conference championship since 1942, with Redlands owning the record for the most league titles by a single school with 28, per the league’s football record book. A seismic shift occurred in the conference for the 2023 season with the dissolution of Whittier’s program following the 2022 campaign, however, for the first time in league history, an official Championship Game was held. 

The league’s six teams were organized into two pods of three (switching up on a two-year cycle) called the “Sun” and “Surf” divisions, with all teams playing other teams in their pod twice and everyone else in the SCIAC once in the regular season. 

The top two teams in each pod following the conclusion of the regular season then squared off in an official league championship game, with the winner being the official league champion and earning the conference’s automatic bid to the D-III playoffs.

Who won the 2023 SCIAC Championship Game?

Sun champion Pomona-Pitzer and Surf champion Chapman met in the inaugural SCIAC Championship Game on Nov. 11 of last year, with Chapman winning 41-20 over the Sagehens to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA postseason. 

The Panthers picked off Pomona-Pitzer quarterback Grady Russo six times while their own gunslinger, then-junior Luke Peterman, threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions as Chapman raced to a 24-0 halftime lead and held on. 

With the victory, Chapman earned a spot in the first round of D-III playoffs for that following weekend, where it ended up losing to Whitworth (Washington) by a 42-28 margin as the Panthers saw their season end.

Have any NFL players played for SCIAC schools?

Per College Football Reference, a total of 15 players from current SCIAC schools have played in the NFL, with over half of them (eight) being alumni of California Lutheran. 

The most notable name of that bunch is College Football Hall of Famer Brian Kelley — not to be confused with the similarly-named LSU coach — who was an all-time great for Cal Lutheran during his career there from 1969-72, leading the Kingsmen to two NAIA title games (while winning one) as a Little All-American linebacker. Drafted by the New York Giants in 1973, Kelley spent over a decade in the NFL as a member of the Giants’ “Crunch Bunch,” where he paired with Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, and Pro Bowler Brad Van Pelt to make up one of the most feared linebacker groups in NFL history. 

Former Redlands offensive lineman John Houser had stints with three NFL teams from 1957-63, as well. 

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