Much of the NCAA attention (and TV dollars) goes towards men’s football and men’s basketball, and that helps to determine rankings of power schools, but what if we counted all Division I team titles? That’s what a piece published at StatisticalFuture.org Monday does, breaking down the total Division I team titles through July 1, 2016. Here’s the graph they came up with:
It’s not particularly surprising to see UCLA, Stanford and USC at the top (and other Pac-12 schools like Cal and Oregon up relatively high), as those schools have long been famed for their excellence in many of the sports that are most prominent at the Olympics; in this past summer’s Rio Games, Cal, USC, Stanford and UCLA had more current and former athletes combined than all other conferences except the SEC, and the Pac-12 as a whole had 273 athletes there. (And that’s before you get to other sports where those schools have dominated, such as UCLA’s long run of men’s basketball titles.)
What’s really remarkable is the #12 school here, the University of Denver. The Denver Pioneers came in ahead of Florida, Oregon, Georgia and Ohio State, to say nothing of all the prominent sports schools that didn’t even make the top 15. How’d they get them? Well, by this cut-off (July 1, 2016), Denver had 31 championships; one in men’s lacrosse, seven in men’s hockey, and an astounding 23 in skiing (men’s only before 1983, men’s and women’s combined since then). Since then, they’ve added another men’s hockey championship, which would put them even closer to Michigan and California.
Does that mean Denver’s more successful in sports than the likes of Oregon and Ohio State? Not really. Most of their titles come in a sport where those other schools don’t even compete. And Ohio State and Oregon are certainly making more money from their overall athletic program (and spending more on it, too) than Denver is. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. But it’s worth remembering that, as with the Olympics, marquee team events still only count for one gold medal or one title. Winning a NCAA football or basketball championship will get you more attention, but there are plenty of these other championships out there too. And there’s something to be said for an approach like Denver’s, where they don’t compete in everything (they have 17 varsity teams and don’t compete in many sports, including football; by contrast, Cal has 30 varsity teams and Ohio State has 37) but focus on a few strong areas. It’s certainly worked out well for them.