How do you judge a collegiate athletics program – overall competitive balance or is a football title enough?
I would imagine that Clemson fans aren’t crying too much that its program finished 52nd in the annual ranking that measures broad-based success across men’s and women’s athletics – behind football-free Denver (35th) and Princeton (48th). Or that the Tigers got edged out by South Carolina for the second consecutive year in the head-to-head Palmetto Series because the Gamecocks offset losing the food drive with a higher team GPA.
As long as director of athletics Dan Radakovic doesn’t fire Dabo Swinney anytime soon and keeps pouring money into glistening new football facilities to keep the talent rolling in, the IPTAY folks will consider everything hunky-dory in Tiger town.
That’s the unfortunate thing about football in this region. The obsession with it trumps just about everything else, sometimes to the expense of a more well-rounded athletics diet.
Georgia topped all area programs with a 15th-place finish in the 2016-17 Learfield Directors Cup standings – a familiar finish in a system that for 23 consecutive years has crowned Stanford as the best all-around program in the nation. But AD Greg McGarity’s evaluation would be a lot rosier if the Bulldogs can reach the College Football Playoffs.
Georgia Tech checked in at a dismal 102nd overall, behind Furman and Florida Gulf Coast and ahead of only one other Power 5 conference school (Rutgers). But the Yellow Jackets aren’t likely to forfeit its football victory over the Bulldogs last season or its trip to the NIT championship game for more competitive efforts in women’s sports.
South Carolina barely missed out on its first top-20 berth since finishing 11th and 18th in 2002 and ’03, grabbing 21st thanks to its NCAA title in women’s basketball and Final Four appearance by the men. But you’d probably find a solid share of Gamecock Nation willing to trade both lofty accomplishments for just one of Clemson’s consecutive trips to college football’s championship game.
Nowhere is the football-centric focus more obvious than Georgia Southern, where a bowl-ineligible 5-7 season in the Sun Belt left the Eagles nearly shut out entirely. Georgia Southern managed to muster 8.0 points out of its 11th-place NCAA regional finish in men’s golf to get on the board and finish 291st – three points and two spots ahead of last place.
Georgia Tech isn’t much better. The Yellow Jackets don’t have the deepest pockets, and new director of athletics Todd Stansbury has his hands full enough trying to help steer football and men’s basketball into better revenue generators in the Atlantic Coast Conference without having to worry about how softball is doing.
In the Directors Cup standings, the Jackets got 153 combined points in men’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis in the spring to rally from 187th after getting blanked in the winter. It got no credit for reaching the NIT final. It’s only other points (45) came from winning a bowl game in football.
Still it’s hard to stomach the home school of Bobby Jones not even bothering to have a women’s golf team. And Georgia Tech is the only ACC school that fields neither a men’s nor women’s soccer program – ironic in a major city has an MLS franchise currently playing in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Clemson isn’t much better in the down-ballot sports. The Tigers finished 16th in the inaugural Directors Cup in 1993-94, second only to top-ranked North Carolina in the ACC. It’s largely been a fixture in the 40-60 range since as its once national reputation in soccer, golf and baseball have tapered off with more inconsistent results.
Clemson and Georgia Tech both have won 20 ACC titles since the conference first expanded 13 years ago – lagging behind less football-centric schools like Virginia (64), North Carolina (37) and Duke (36) as well as pigskin-minded peers Florida State (55) and Virginia Tech (24).
Despite its relative depth compared to its regional peers, Georgia isn’t the balanced power it used to be. UGA posted nine top-10 finishes in the last 20 Directors Cup standings, including a high of second in 1998-99 when it won NCAA titles in gymnastics, men’s golf and tennis and women’s swimming.
The Bulldogs, however, have only had two No. 10 finishes in the last 12 years, the last time in 2012-12. More often than not, Georgia takes a back seat to SEC rival Florida – which has never been outside the top 10 in 24 years, finished runner-up five times and only ranked as low as seventh on three occasions.
South Carolina is the only overall program trending upward, thanks in large part to men’s and women’s basketball. It earned points in 17 of the maximum 20 sports for its highest finish in 14 years. In contrast, Clemson earned points in only nine sports and was shut out in the winter.
“We compete for excellence in all of our sports,” said Ray Tanner, the Gamecocks director of athletics. “I feel that we are in a good place to build on these results and reach a higher place next year.”
That’s the spirit every collegiate program should have – even if they don’t sport a football program.
University of Augusta ranked 128th (161.5 points) among 266 ranked Division II schools, eighth best in the Peach Belt Conference and 14 spots behind No. 114 USC Aiken which earned 190.5 total points in baseball, men’s golf and tennis and women’s volleyball. For what it’s worth, the Jaguars’ Division I men’s and women’s golf teams earned enough points (78.5) in their respective NCAA tournaments to have tied with Georgia State (178th) in the Division I final standings.
That should be motivation for the region’s bigger programs to embrace that there’s more to being successful beyond football.