Championship

Strange and interesting things that I have learned from the NCAA website in the course of an extended email exchange with a colleague about college sports:

1. LSU has won the 6th highest number of national championships in Division I sports.

2. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are UCLA (97 national championships), Stanford (91), and USC (84).

3. The drop-off between the California schools and the rest of the pack is precipitous.* Oklahoma State comes in #4 with 46 championships, and Arkansas is not far behind with 42. (LSU has 40.)

4. Of the top 6 championship-winning Division I schools, LSU is the only one that has won more national championships in women’s sports (24) than in men’s (16). Neither Oklahoma State nor Arkansas has won a single national championship in a women’s sport.

5. LSU is ranked 3rd in the number of national championships in women’s sports, behind Stanford (34) and UCLA (28).

6. All 24 of LSU’s women’s national championships are in track and field, 11 indoor and 13 outdoor.

7. Somewhere down the line, LSU won one national championship in men’s boxing.

8. Football is not included among the sports that the NCAA counts in these championship figures, as “the NCAA does not conduct a championship for Division I-A football.” On a linked page of past Division I-A national championships in football, however, one can see that over the past 136 years, there have only been 27 seasons in which the championship title has been considered undisputed. Of those 27, 13 date from 1892 and earlier. Of those 13, 7 went to Yale, 5 to Princeton, and 1 to Harvard.

Make of that what you will.

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*I remain very curious about this concentration of championships on the west coast. Some of it is attributable, I suspect, to the inclusion of certain sports in west-coast athletic programs that simply don’t exist in the midwest or east; I’m thinking here in particular of water polo. Some of it may well be climate-related; California’s mighty conducive to sports in general, with its mild temperatures and low humidity. And some of it, no doubt, is a legacy factor, in which the championship-rich get championship-richer, through more easily obtainable funding and greater ease in recruiting. But I’m just not convinced that those three factors are enough to explain the nearly 50% dropoff between USC and Oklahoma State. Theories?

4 thoughts on “Championship

  1. USC won a bunch of national championships in baseball in the 60’s and 70’s, before there was much in the way of college baseball at all. They also have 26 championships in men’s outdoor track and field, another sport that I think has only developed some kind of parity of late.

    UCLA has 10 championships in women’s softball, 16 in men’s tennis, and 18 in men’s volleyball–all sports that aren’t that popular or have only become popular (and thus developed parity) in recent years. Their eleven championships in men’s basketball, though, are more attributable to sheer dominance.

    This is not meant as solely a criticism–obviously, those schools were offering and recognizing sports long before they became popular across the country, and that’s good. Still, touting a high number of championships without context always irks me a bit.

    It reminds me of the debates that surrounded when Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt passed former North Carolina men’s basketball coach Dean Smith in total number of wins by a college basketball coach. Is her accomplishment more impressive than Dean Smith’s, given the number of wins she was able to rack up in an era when women’s basketball wasn’t nearly so popular and there were a lot fewer truly competitive teams? Or, does the amount of adversity that she no doubt had to overcome as one of the innovators of women’s college basketball make her accomplishment more impressive? The funny thing about all of it was that, while the camps on both sides argued passionately, Dean Smith himself thought it was a wonderful accomplishment and could have given two shits about the record or how it was broken.

    Also–true story–one of my grandmother’s nursing home boyfriends was a member of that national championship boxing team.

  2. Caleb, I suspect something like that may be at work, but I still want to say that the California schools have a more nationwide reach in scouting than many other programs do, so I’m not sure how much a factor the relatively large population of the state is, in the end.

    But DN, I think you’re right — it’s the lack of context in the numbers that’s a bit crazy-making, and particularly in terms of the championships in sports that don’t exactly have a national penetration. For instance, Princeton has 22 total national championships to its name, which includes 1 in men’s fencing, 12 in men’s golf, 6 in men’s lacrosse, and 3 in women’s lacrosse. Denver, by contrast, has 25 national championships, 7 in men’s ice hockey and 18 in coed skiing. Does this make Denver winninger than Princeton?

  3. That is strange. It’s probably a recruiting issue, in part. Easier to recruit to California than North Dakota. But the regional issue is complicated. After all, UCLA probably doesn’t have a hockey championship. UCLA did have a great track program in the 1940s and ‘50s when Jackie Robinson went there (in fact, many southern schools that refused to recruit black athletes–UGA, Alabama–were probably at a disadvantage here). Also wondering if the fact that recuriting rules were loosely enforced benefitted certain wealthy (UCLA, USC) schools.

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