I’m no stranger to gaming a scoring system. You learn the rules, figure out where they fall short, then properly exploit them. Just like any lawyer, accountant, or politician. When I was a wet-eared freshman at TCU, I entered a weightlifting competition at the Rickel. It wasn’t an Olympic-style contest, testing the snatch and clean and jerk, but simply a max-effort bench press and then a bench press for reps at a set weight. I won, competing as a representative for my fraternity. For finishing first, I received as many “points” for my organization toward the all-campus championship as the top flag-football, softball, or volleyball team would. It was then I realized we could bag the overall intramural trophy without winning a single major sport. There’s nothing wrong or improper about how we successfully achieved our title that year, but still, it might have been slightly misrepresentative of our athletic prowess.
It’s not hyperbole to affirm that TCU’s sesquicentennial is also their best sports year ever, at least so far. I know that some, me included occasionally, shudder after the mention of this football season because of the scorched-Earth ending, but TCU finished as the second-best football team in the nation, something for which 128 other teams would probably sacrifice their athletic director — Aztec-style — from the top of their press box.
Women’s soccer qualified for the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season, matching their best finish in the 36-year history of the program with a ninth ranking. Women’s volleyball qualified for — and won their first round of — the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history and ended ranked 17th. Women’s tennis is on an undefeated early-season run to complement the men’s unblemished record as they prepare to defend their indoor title and are sitting third-ranked currently.
Men’s hoops are in a good-news/bad-news spot. After rising to No. 11 after defeating No. 1 Kansas in Lawrence, TCU has backslid a bit while trying to rehab injuries to Mike Miles and Eddie Lampkin. They’re currently on a three-game skid after avenging their road loss to West Virginia, but Miles hasn’t appeared in any of those four tips and Lampkin has played sparingly. Even so, the Frogs are still considered a solid selection for the NCAA tournament.
To complement these more marquee sports, equestrian is ranked second, and rifle have been the team to beat all year, setting personal and team records which were already imposing.
Journey with me to inquire this: If the Frogs are, collectively, having their best season as an athletic entity ever, why aren’t they in contention for the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Directors’ Cup? I’m going to walk out on a beefy, well-supported limb and assume most readers have never heard of such a distinction, unless you’re a Longhorn, and we’ll acknowledge all the Austinites soon enough. This award is bestowed upon a school that shows excellence across a broad swath of sports and teams, collecting points from their respective finishes in NCAA sports to crown a champion. From there, the NACDA counts points based on the finishes of the best 19 sports at a school — except men’s water polo, for some reason — regardless of gender, though they must include baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s volleyball.
I get it, the award is meant to honor and value all athletes and sports equally, which I support. Yet the results from the intention don’t demonstrably deliver equal opportunity and access toward actually winning. Only three schools have ever won since it was established during the 1993-94 school year: North Carolina (inaugural year), Texas (past two years), Stanford (every other year, 25 consecutive times). It seems a bit like my fraternity brothers and I learned many years ago — there’s a flaw in the system. Stanford does it by majoring in the minors. I’ll be the first to admit that Texas and Stanford specifically have premier major sports and are or have been in contention for national championships at various times, but should the collegiate champion in women’s bowling receive the same point total toward the Directors’ Cup as Georgia football does?
The Horned Frogs really aren’t equipped, as an athletic department, to win this award. For context, TCU lists 22 varsity sports, most of them offered by most universities. Stanford has 36, including fencing, squash, sailing, and artistic swimming. Texas should be given their due in this regard as they actually offer fewer varsity sports than TCU but managed to steal the title from Palo Alto for the first time two years ago and have retained it since. Regardless, UT is currently eighth in the standings — mostly on the strength of their volleyball title — and our Frogs 25th. North Carolina is leading the race after the conclusion of fall sports thanks to their win in field hockey (a sport I don’t think any Texas D-I institution competes in), runner-up finish in women’s soccer, and Top-10 finishes in both men’s and women’s cross country.
It’s really not my intention to disparage other sports as lesser than, even though it’s easy to imagine some athletic departments not existing at all without the money and interest generated by their football and basketball programs, but at the very least, the scoring system should be revisited and perhaps weighted based on program size or number of schools competing. TCU’s current placing after the fall is partially because of the 90 points they received from finishing as the second-ranked football program, but New Mexico State — which was 7-6 out of the WAC — received 45 points from football for finishing as an unranked squad that won its bowl game. The Longhorns, who finished the year in a tougher conference with a better record than the Aggies, received 49 points thanks to their 25th ranking. None of the aforementioned seems proportional to the publicity, team size, and money required to be competitive in football, specifically.
What we could say is that the validity of calling yourself the best sports school in the country due to hoisting the Directors’ Cup is highly suspect. As of right now, it seems that North Carolina is in the best position to recapture the award based on where the standings are and current rankings for spring sports, and good for them. As a lover of less popular sports and their athletes, I’m all for championing their accomplishments in whatever way we can, but it doesn’t mean that UNC, Texas, Stanford, or whoever else is having a better sports year than our little school in Fort Worth. Fanatics can argue until their mouths hurt, but winning a collegiate bowling championship isn’t better than finishing second in football.