What was surprising? Ohio State’s finish, at least for those who support Buckeye athletics.
Traditionally a top-10 program each year – with a second-place finish under its belt in 2010-11 – Ohio State placed 25th in this year’s standings. The finish is the worst for OSU since in the 21 years of Directors’ Cup play, and the Buckeyes could only finish sixth in the Big Ten behind Penn State (fifth), Michigan (13th), Wisconsin (18th), Minnesota (21st) and Nebraska (23rd).
Speaking with BSB in late June, director of athletics Gene Smith said he’s not exactly worried about the trend, but he’s not a fan of it, either.
“It doesn’t worry me,” Smith said. “We should strive to be in the top five; we certainly shouldn’t be in the 20s. That’s now who we are. You have to take into consideration where very individual program is. Certain sports didn’t go deep enough in the postseason so those points we usually rack up, we just weren’t able to achieve.
“Every coach knows that, but it’s not like the end all, be all. It’s just one of those indicators we have to constantly look at because we should be up there. There’s five schools in the Big Ten ahead of us, and that shouldn’t happen.”
So how did the Buckeyes go from second a mere three years ago to fourth in 2012, 16th last year and now 25th?
As it stands, a number of programs have struggled on the field. Schools can score in 20 of the 32 sports that are part of the Directors’ Cup standings but Ohio State has earned points in just 16 each over the past two seasons. (Non-NCAA sports like pistol, in which OSU won the national title in 2014, and synchronized swimming, in which OSU is a traditional power, do not count in the standings).
Eleven sports – women’s cross country, men’s cross country, field hockey, men’s soccer, women’s basketball, women’s hockey, men’s hockey, rifle, baseball, softball, and men’s volleyball – failed to register points in each of the past two seasons.
Some of those sports are handicapped by aging facilities, a lack of tradition or coaching instability, but for others, that marks a significant decline in performance over the past few seasons. Field hockey made the NCAA final four in 2011, men’s soccer was a consistent NCAA performer through 2011 with a national title game appearance in ’07, women’s hoops had a nine-year run of NCAA appearances through 2012, and men’s volleyball won the national title in 2011.
Declines in success such as those are among the reasons OSU fell from 1277 points in 2010-11 to just 824 points this year. That includes a dropoff of 277.25 points in the fall sports, as OSU totaled 369 points in the fall of 2010 thanks to strong showings by football, field hockey, women’s volleyball and both soccer teams but accumulated just 91.75 points this past season. The winter sports experienced a total dropoff of 109.75 points from 2010-11 to now, while the spring sports lost 66 points.
There have been some programs on the rise, though. Thanks to a seventh-place national finish, women’s golf went from 29 points last year to 71.25, while football – banned from the postseason and thus scoring in 2012 despite a 12-0 record – went from 0 to 66.75. Men’s gymnastics returned to the NCAA final six and jumped from 32.5 points to 73, while women’s outdoor track and field, women’s tennis and women’s lacrosse got back on the board by breaking NCAA tournament droughts.
Meanwhile, sports like rowing – which won its second consecutive NCAA title in 2014 – as well as men’s tennis, fencing, wrestling, men’s swimming and diving, women’s gymnastics and men’s basketball continued as point scoring machines.
But the Buckeyes will still need a lot more to get back near the Cardinal’s level. Stanford had 19 programs finish in the top 10 of the nation this year, with women’s water polo capturing the national championship and all 100 points. Of the 20 sports that earned Directors’ Cup points this year, Stanford averaged 74.1 points per team, a mark bettered by just two OSU sports this season.
Below is a chart listing the points each OSU sport has earned over the past six years plus its average score.
When it comes to 2014, the Ohio State AD still had good things to say.
“It went great,” Smith said. “We had a great year. We graduated 195 athletes over the year and then we had 329 Academic All-Big Ten honorees, and that’s the second-highest in our history, so it was a great year. Competitively, we had a lot of people that did well, a lot of teams did well.
“Having our rowing team win back-to-back national championships was phenomenal. The football team had a great year even though we didn’t finish as strong as we all had hoped. Men’s basketball, I think Thad (Matta) did one of his best coaching jobs ever in a tough situation. I think he managed that extremely well. Recruiting has been phenomenal. I think Kevin McGuff, our women’s coach, transitioned in well with the smaller numbers and injuries and so on, and I think he got a lot of great experience for those young ladies and set a great foundation for the future.
“You look at it, I think we had six coaches that received national coach of the year recognition. Women’s golf, it’s unbelievable the job Therese Hession does. Women’s tennis got better, moved up the rankings, so it was a good year when you think about it overall.”
The overarching goal of the athletics department still remains, and it is to usurp Stanford’s two-decade-long dominance of the Director’s Cup.
“We have to win that bad boy from Stanford,” Smith said.