The Pac-12 is a bit of a mess in the glam sports. It was excluded from the most recent College Football Playoff for the second time in the last three seasons, and was an embarrassing 1-8 in bowl games. In men’s basketball, two programs fired coaches as part of the federal corruption investigation, and the league’s streak without a national champion now stands at 21 years — longest of any Power Five conference.
Yet the Pac-12 still rightfully can call itself the “Conference of Champions,” because it has the hardware to back it up. The Learfield Director’s Cup Standings offer all the bragging rights needed.
The now-annual Yahoo Sports national ranking of overall college athletic department success underscores the Left Coast dominance of all things outside the football/basketball realm. With Oregon State’s thrilling College World Series win this week, Pac-12 teams won 12 national titles in 2017-18, doubling the total of the runner-up Southeastern Conference.
The 65-school list, which is a five-year average of the Learfield Cup standings for Power Five conferences — for the uninitiated, that’s the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Big 12, plus Notre Dame — is updated through this just-concluded season. Which means 2012-13 data is out, and 2017-18 data is in.
There are some changes, but the power remains concentrated in the same locale. In just about every facet outside football and basketball, the Pac-12 got better in 2017-18.
The top of the list features the usual Left Coast suspects: Stanford won the Learfield Cup for the 24th consecutive season, a staggering run; UCLA and USC also are in the top five. Only five schools won multiple national titles in the just-completed school year, and those are three of them. The Cardinal won the most of any school (four), followed by the Bruins (three). The Trojans joined Notre Dame and Georgia in winning two each.
California and Oregon are in the Learfield Top 25. Arizona State, Washington and Colorado are in the top 40. That’s two-thirds of the conference in the top 40 — and even the customary laggards at the bottom, Washington State and Oregon State, moved way up in 2017-18.
Obviously, the California schools have weather to their advantage and tend to excel at warm-weather sports. But while the inverse is true to a degree, it’s not ironclad.
Take, for instance, Minnesota — perhaps the most overachieving athletic department in the country. The Gophers ranked 19th nationally in 2017-18 and 23rd over the five-year span — but the most recent ranking owes precious little to what is considered the state sport, ice hockey. Just 25 of Minnesota’s 852 Learfield Cup points came from hockey — all from the women’s side, zero from the men’s.
The biggest underachiever: Miami. Fellow Power Five schools from the Sunshine State ranked third (Florida) and ninth (Florida State) in 2017-18, while the Hurricanes wallowed far behind their in-state rivals at No. 62. Clearly, there are budgetary differences and Miami has a different academic mission, but the gap shouldn’t be this wide.
The highest FBS finisher outside the Power Five was BYU, at No. 45. The highest finisher outside of FBS was Princeton, at No. 40. And the highest finisher that plays no football at all was Denver, at No. 47. All of those are repeats from last year.
But the most predictable thing about the athletic department standings is at the top: Stanford, with plenty of Pac-12 company.
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