I know it’s been a while, but often in the summer I’m too busy watching sports to blog much about them. College football is just the perfect sport for me to blog about since you have all your games finishing up on Saturday night, and (even with the national semifinal system) each game is much more important than an NFL game. Then, aside from the mostly irrelevant early-week games, there are a good few days at least to ponder the results and the upcoming week with no new results coming in.
Anyway, what I’ve mostly been doing lately in my spare time is watching the World Cup and the College World Series (I’m about to replace the latter with Wimbledon). I’ll probably have something to say about the World Cup when it’s over, but for now I just want to sort of sum up the academic sports year, which ended with Vanderbilt winning its first ever national title in a men’s sport, and (surprise surprise) talk about the SEC.
In some respects, you could consider the year a disappointment for the SEC. Obviously, the SEC’s streak of BCS titles came to an end at 7 after Auburn’s loss to Florida St. in January. When Oregon won the men’s outdoor track title a couple of weeks ago, it marked the fourth consecutive major men’s sports title (I’ll just call them the four sports from now on) NOT won by the SEC. Had Virginia won the CWS, this would have matched the drought from January 2004 (LSU’s first BCS title) to June 2005 (when Arkansas last won the national title in track).
On the other hand, going into the CWS final, the SEC had been reigning runners-up in all four of those sports (that’s not really “reigning”, but you get the idea). In three of those four sports, the SEC had at least one additional team in the top four. Also, I mentioned the BCS title streak that came to an end, but it’s still 8 years in a row that the SEC had a team play in the championship game. In baseball, it’s now 7 years in a row than an SEC team has been in the championship series (4-3). The SEC only had two finalist in the seven prior seasons. Both lost.
This is actually kind of incredible, but this academic year, the SEC had 10 different programs finish in the top four of the major sports: Auburn football, Alabama football (I’ll explain), Kentucky basketball, Florida basketball, Florida track, Texas A&M track, LSU track, South Carolina track, Vanderbilt baseball, and Ole Miss baseball. I would be very surprised if any conference had ever done that before in those sports.
I know most have said good riddance to the BCS already, but there is an important thing to clarify in the way it worked. In short, the number 3 and 4 teams in the final BCS standings are the closest approximation to semifinalists. I’ll elaborate in the next paragraph, but feel free to skip it if you understand.
It did not narrow down the field to two teams after the bowl games. So in basketball, for instance, you got eliminated from title contention when games were played and you lost to the title team. But you got eliminated from BCS title contention after championship week and before the bowl games. If Florida and Wisconsin went and lost some kind of exhibition after the basketball season, that would not alter their status as basketball semifinalists. For BCS purposes, the bowl games were exhibitions for all the other teams. I know the AP title was theoretically still in play, but the BCS was the only championship system. You don’t have to remind me USC won the AP trophy after the 2003 season, but in the bowl game they were playing a team (Michigan) which was not vying for any kind of championship, so that’s not really a system where you must beat other teams that are trying to be champions. A team like Alabama last year made a really good run at the title and understandably only one team separated them from a berth in the championship game when it came time to decide who was to play in that game.
So while the SEC ONLY had one national championship in the four sports this year, the first time it hasn’t had multiple championships since 2007-08, having ten programs that high is an impressive feat, arguably even more impressive than 2011-12 when the SEC had 3 national titles, 3 runners-up and a seventh top-four team. As mentioned, three of the relevant programs were also runners-up this academic year.
Below is the chart of all these top fours beginning with the 2006-07 academic year, the beginning of the BCS-championship streak. 2005-06 was a good year for LSU (Final Four in basketball [won by Florida] and national runner-up in track), but I had to cut it off somewhere. If someone wants to compile results for other conferences, feel free. The only reason a fifth track team is included for this year is there was a tie in points for fourth, which obviously isn’t really possible for the other sports. The BCS has too many decimal places to tie, and in basketball and baseball, you’re only going to get four semifinalists no matter what you do. From now on, I will use the same format for football and just consider the losing semifinalists as tied for third.