Cal Poly shines in NCAA spotlight, but don't call us Pomona or San Louie!

The Mustangs’ Cinderella run has placed the school and city in the March Madness spotlight, and — perhaps predictably — no one knows who we are

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMarch 20, 2014 

Who knew so many people know so little about Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo?

While the Cal Poly men’s basketball team is making its magical run into the NCAA Tournament, a good many people around the nation, it seems, are still trying to figure out just who we are.

The result? Botched headlines, mispronounced names and general snarkiness — at least in March Madness circles — about this unfamiliar school from California’s Central Coast.

On the radio, prominent ESPN talk show host Freddie Coleman confused the local university by saying it used to be called Cal Poly Pomona until the Pomona was dropped.

And during the live national broadcast of the Mustangs’ first-round, 81-69 win Wednesday against Texas Southern, play-by-play caller Kevin Harlan pronounced it “San Louie Obispo.”

That’s, of course, a longtime pet peeve of many locals who commonly use the “San Louis Obispo” pronunciation.

Additionally, Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Dufresne recently highlighted a recent butchery of Cal Poly’s name on the DirecTV channel guide of the Big West Conference final — as well as Cal State Northridge’s.

The listing highlighted a game between “Cal Poly Pomona” versus “Cal Poly Northridge,” according to Cal Poly guard Kyle Odister. It was a double whammy of a gaffe.

Even in California, San Luis Obispo apparently remains something of a mystery with a headline in Thursday’s Modesto Bee crediting Poly’s win Wednesday to its sister school down south.

Today, Mustangs fans will hope for a better showing from the national media and TV guide listings as the local team plays No. 1-seeded Wichita State in St. Louis at 4:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS.

Campus reaction

Cal Poly theater major Christina Garcia calls the mistakes “funny, but a little bit disrespectful.”

“These guys are supposed to be professionals,” Garcia said with a smile. “Get it right. And who’s Cal Poly Pomona anyway? I don’t know anything about those guys.”

Cal Poly liberal studies major Dani Newton follows the team closely and plans to watch today’s game versus Wichita State with her family. Newton calls the blunders “laughable.”

“It’s weird,” Newton said. “You would think people would know, especially those credible people (in the media). It’s funny. … But it will be good to put us on the map.”

Newton’s friend, Laura Olson, also a liberal studies major, was irked by the mix-ups as well, calling Cal Poly San Luis Obispo “the real Cal Poly.”

“I think our sports are more prestigious,” Olson said. “Our school is more prestigious. We’re the real one.”

National comments on Twitter have ranged from “Who the heck is Cal Poly?” to “How can Cal Poly make the tourney but (West Virginia University) who whoops up on ranked teams all year not?”

By the admission of even the most faithful of Cal Poly supporters, the Mustangs had an unlikely run to earn their berth in the NCAA.

They entered the Big West Conference Tournament with a 10-19 record before winning three straight games against higher-seeded teams.

The confusion with Cal Poly Pomona may come in part because the schools share in the construction of the annual Rose Parade float. The parade is televised throughout Southern California.

Also, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s mascot is the Mustangs, and Cal Poly Pomona’s is the Broncos. Both schools use a horse logo.

The Cal Poly Pomona men’s basketball program has been successful at the Division II level, winning the national championship in 2010.

Rising excitement

As the national recognition slowly takes shape, Mustangs fans are riding the wave. Cal Poly-related March Madness T-shirts in most sizes were sold out at the campus bookstore Thursday.

“I have never seen school spirit like this,” Cal Poly student and bookstore employee Chanel Collom said. “We’ve seen so many people come in today buying sweatshirts and T-shirts.”

Joshua Carroll Jacobson, owner of the embroidery shop J.Carroll in San Luis Obispo, scrambled to print 500 new green “March On” Cal Poly T-shirts on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s game. He said he expects about 1,700 T-shirts related to Cal Poly’s March Madness appearance to be sold by the end of the week.

“As Cal Poly was winning its game against Texas Southern, I took a chance and called my supplier to have him deliver 500 T-shirts by 11 a.m. Thursday,” Jacobson said. “It was a risk, but there has been too much magic.”

For Cal Poly student Monique Jennings, who normally isn’t a big sports fan, the excitement has been contagious — media failures aside.

What would it mean if the Mustangs somehow were able to upset Wichita State to become the first No. 16 seed in the tournament to beat a No. 1?

“It will be a full-on party,” Jennings said. “I can’t even imagine all the celebration that would happen. … Everyone else’s excitement is rubbing off on me.”

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