CBS Sports came out with its annual ranking of the "Best in College Sports." The ranking purports to rank FBS schools based on the major college sports. Topping the list are, in order, Ohio State, Louisville, UCLA, Oregon, and Florida State. Virginia, which won three national championships during the 2014-2015 school year, was all the way down at No. 24.
The CBS Sports rankings are flawed, and I'm not just saying that because Virginia wasn't at or near the top. It's flawed because of its disproportionate weight as between football and basketball, and it's flawed because of its limitations on the number of sports included.
CBS Sports takes the approach of weighing more heavily towards sports that they believe to generate the broadest base of fan and media interest. OK, we'll try to work within this paradigm.
But from here, they wander astray. CBS Sports allows schools to earn points in their rankings system in only five categories: Football, Men's Basketball, Women's Basketball, Baseball, and a wild card spot. The wild card spot is given to the school's best performance in: softball, men's lacrosse, men's ice hockey, men's soccer, wrestling, volleyball, women's soccer and women's gymnastics. We'll get to the wild card spot in a second.
For points, they view football as king, and as such, it should receive three times the number of points as women's basketball, baseball, or the wild card. They view men's basketball as second in line, and therefore it receives two times the points. Each of women's basketball, baseball, and the wild card receive just a 1x multiple.
CBS Sports' argument is that the Directors' Cup is flawed because it weighs all sports equally, meaning a national championship in football is worth the same as a national championship in water polo. This is a valid point, because athletics directors don't typically get fired if the water polo team is underperforming, but if a school's football program is constantly at the bottom of the barrel, well, heads are going to start rolling.
Isn't this, though, the exact problem that the Capital One Cup is designed to fix? The Capital One Cup breaks the various sports programs into two tiers. The top tier includes soccer, football (or women's volleyball), basketball, lacrosse, outdoor track & field, and baseball (or softball), and has separate awards for men's and women's. Top tier sports receive a 3x multiple of points, while the second tier sports (cross country, water polo, skiing, rifle, indoor track & field, wrestling, fencing, swimming & diving, ice hockey, gymnastics, volleyball, tennis or golf, on the men's side) receive just a 1x multiple. Points are awarded based on final poll standings or championship results, depending on sport. The Capital One Cup is not perfect - it seems silly to rely on a poll when there are actual championship results to lean on, but the CBS Sports rankings use poll results as well.
While football is king, is it so much at the top tier that it receives a 3x multiple to basketball's 2x? That is, even when Duke football was in the gutter, don't we consider Duke to be one of the premier college athletics programs in the country, largely because of their basketball prowess? Same goes for North Carolina. Without their 75 football also-participated points this year, they would have fallen to around 16th and 25th, respectively. That's with a national championship in basketball, for Duke. So at least from a "broad fan base" perspective, I have a hard time following this one. Duke's fan base as large and passionate about their basketball team as the Ohio State fan base is about their football program.
What about from a media perspective? The BCS Championship game pulled in 26.06 million TV viewers in 2014, as compared to college basketball's championship game of 21.20 viewers, or a 23% difference - a far cry from the 50% difference in points received. In fact, of the list of top 50 most-watched sporting events, NFL and Olympics excluded in 2014, college football shows up 10 times on the list, to college basketball's nine. Bottom line? Football and basketball are close enough in viewership that they should be receiving the same number of points.
Let's go back to the wild card spots. CBS Sports has identified those eight wild card sports as being important enough to get points for a school (meaning, it's reached a minimum threshold of fan and media interest), but no matter how well a school performs in those eight sports, they can receive a maximum of 100 points. They can pick one sport, win a title, and it's worth the same number of points as a women's basketball title or a baseball title.
Why are schools limited to just one of the eight? Would anyone argue with a straight face that a school that wins eight national championship in the wild card sports, but earns no points otherwise, is on the same level as a school that wins a national championship in baseball, but earns no points otherwise? Seems unlikely.
To the extent that the wild card is even in play, I have a hard time with the notion that baseball is not a wild card sport but that men's soccer, men's lacrosse, and men's ice hockey are. If anything, I'd argue that this is a regional matter, where the West and the South are big baseball fans, the Midwest follows soccer, the mid-Atlantic, New England, and Denver largely follow lacrosse, and the Siberia states follow hockey.
If CBS Sports believes that these sports are big enough to earn points, query why there's an arbitrary cutoff at 5 sports.
A lot of the flaws pointed out here, if fixed, would of course benefit Virginia. After all, it's hard to see how a program that's won three national championships this year (including one in one of the Top-4 sports identified by CBS Sports and one in a wild card sport), could drop all the way down to No. 24, while a school like Oregon, which did not win any national championships and laid a goose egg in the women's basketball category, managed to be crowned the fourth best program in college athletics.