The other day, Brian over at BC Interruption asked me a question that I suspect most schools would find pretty easy to answer: What is your school's best non-revenue sport? Most schools have just one or two they can point to, if any, and they're able to pick one from that. Of course, schools like Stanford, Florida and Duke are going to have a hard time as well. For me, considering the Hoos have multiple top-ten finishes in the Directors' Cup, the choice was almost impossible.
Ultimately, I narrowed it down to three: Baseball, Men's Lacrosse, and Men's Soccer. More on those in a second.
There were lots and lots of honorable mentions here. Both men's and women's swimming have crushed the ACC in recent years (both have four straight conference titles), but neither have made much of a ... ready for this? ... splash on the national title scene. Women's lacrosse has three national titles to their name and have made it to the finals thirteen times - second in the country only to Maryland's 18. Men's Tennis is undoubtedly one of the best tennis teams in the country. They've finished the past three years with a combined record of 105-4, with three of those four losses coming at the hands of Southern California in the NCAA Championships. They haven't dropped an ACC match since 2006 (Duke), and yet, they still have no national title to their name. They're very good, but they're not our best non-revenue. Rowing picked up a title last year, and for as long as the program has been in existence, has never finished lower than seventh at the NCAAs. But with a very limited fan following, I had a hard time picking them as the best.
Which is why, at the end of the day, I had to narrow it down to Baseball, Men's Lacrosse, and Men's Soccer. And I'm very curious to know what you all think as well. More on each of the three programs after the jump.
Let's start with baseball. This program, over the course of a decade, has progressed from a team that was recommended to be cut to a team that has been a national contender for at least each of the past three years. Most of you who follow this site know what a remarkable group of guys Brian O'Connor has before him. Danny Hultzen, of course, was the No. 2 overall draft pick this year and came in second in this year's voting for the Golden Spikes award. Thanks to some generous funding from alumni, most notably former Hoo and current Nat Ryan Zimmerman, the stadium has undergone renovations and expansion at the rate of wildfire here, and the games are still continuing to sell out on a regular basis. Virginia Baseball actually turns a profit for the University.
When the Hoos lost in the College World Series this year, there was a homecoming celebration in Davenport to congratulate these boys for what they did. It was a highly attended event, which is truly remarkable considering it was in the middle of the summer after the students had all gone their separate ways. It's a true testament to how much these guys have accomplished, to have all this after receiving a recommendation of termination.
The men's lacrosse program won its fifth national title this year after having one of the most thrilling roller coaster rides in the program's history. Dom Starsia became the winningest coach in Division I history. The men's lacrosse team has played in front of crowds of over 45,000 people (though its regular home crowd attendance hovers around just 10% of that). This year, Steele Stanwick won the coveted Tewaaraton Trophy, awarded to the nation's top lacrosse player. The program is at a point where, if the Hoos don't make it to the final four on Memorial Day weekend, it's considered an upset of sizeable proportions.
The lacrosse team has a deeper history and more hardware to tout than the baseball team. But even as these boys returned to Charlottesville victorious and yet were not met with any fanfare, unlike the baseball team. So while "on-field success" goes to the lacrosse team, I think "fan lovin'" has to go to the baseball team.
What I ultimately went with, though, was men's soccer. This team has put together more national titles than any of Virginia's other Olympic sports, with six. Five of those came over the span of six years, from 1989-1994 with the exception of 1990, under coach Bruce Arena (now coaching LA Galaxy). The most recent came under George Gelnovatch in 2010 over then-undefeated Akron, who came back to win the title in 2011. While much of the Hoos' success came over a short span of time, it was enough to solidify Virginia men's soccer as one of the strongest programs out there. Since then, even though the Hoos have brought home only limited hardware, they have had remarkable success in the MLS Draft (which, to make it sound sexier and more important, is actually the MLS SuperDraft). Virginia's had multiple Hermann Trophy winners, including Claudio Reyna (1993) and Alecko Eskandarian (2002), both of whom have gone on to some pretty remarkable careers. Former player and 1997 Soccer News Player of the Year Ben Olsen is now head coach of DC United.
On a good day, men's soccer gets anywhere from 2,500 - 4,000 supporters (remember, they play in the same stadium as men's lacrosse, if that helps you compare). But I remember a time not too long ago when the "Wahooligans" were out in great force, and these guys (and gals) were making more noise than perhaps the baseball and men's lacrosse crowds combined. So, while men's lacrosse has been met with somewhat limited success in recent memories - save the 2009 title - I do think over the course, this program gets the nod.
What do you think? Off my rocker? Did I forget a sport? Am I not placing enough emphasis on one thing, and perhaps too much emphasis on national titles? I want your comments.