In one way, in fact, you could argue it was the worst.
Sure, there were some great moments, but three years after finishing second in the nation, Ohio State finished 25th in the NACDA Director’s Cup standings and sixth in the Big Ten, the lowest finish the Buckeyes had posted in the 21 years of the trophy.
At the time, athletics director Gene Smith wasn’t that upset.
“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.”
Smith added that he saw progress in a number of programs even if it hadn’t shown up in the raw numbers.
As it turns out, Smith knew what he was talking about. As he spoke to BuckeyeSports.com on Tuesday, he did so after the in-house athletics celebration honoring the Ohio State rowing team for its history-making third consecutive NCAA championship earned over the weekend.
As members of the department got together to celebrate, it had to have almost felt like Groundhog Day because it was the fifth national championship celebration for Ohio State this year, a school record, as rowing joined football, wrestling, synchronized swimming and pistol at the top of their sports.
“It’s wild,” Smith said. “We’ve never won five national championships in one year. And I was astonished about that once I heard that. It’s just a great year for our teams.”
Those successes have helped boost Ohio State’s Directors’ Cup rankings, not to mention its standing in the Capital One Cup. This year, the Buckeyes were fifth in the latest Directors’ Cup standings released last week before the rowing team won its title.
In the Capital One Cup, the ESPN-sponsored trophy that recognizes athletics success, Ohio State held the top spot in the men’s team rankings through the beginning of June.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” Smith said. “Our challenge is to sustain it. Each team each year will bring something different, the challenges will be different, but our leaders as coaches, how do they adjust to whatever that new challenge is? We have to help our leadership, our coaches, have the tools to adjust so that our student-athletes have a chance. It’s pretty cool.”
While the five title-winning sports have carried the banner, they’re far from the only ones to experience success. The men’s lacrosse team returned to its high-water mark of the NCAA quarterfinals for the second time in three years, while the women’s tennis program won 10 matches in Big Ten action for the first time ever.
Women’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s cross country returned to NCAA action after absences, while there were what have become the usual competitive finishes for fencing, men’s tennis, men’s swimming and diving, men’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
So how does Ohio State do it? Simply put, there’s heft behind the department. That means there’s always support, whether it’s in academics or support staff or an investment in facilities.
“I think watching all the excellence that the department has created this year, I think really what it does is it just validates how outstanding the people that work with all the sports really are,” rowing head coach Andy Teitelbaum said. “I hope that they feel and recognize how important their contributions are to all of this success.”
Smith also points to a decorated list of coaches, which of course starts with Urban Meyer and Thad Matta but trickles down to people like Teitelbaum, who has now won three consecutive titles; Ty Tucker who has turned the men’s tennis team into a national power; and the recently retired Jim Sweeney, who served as men’s gymnastics coach in the 1960s and ’70s before leading the pistol team to crowns in 2000, 2014 and ’15.
Everything adds up to a culture of excellence, in which each sport pushes the other and also pulls for it.
“Watching what happened this year was awesome because I know how much it means and how great it feels to get to that point,” Teitelbaum said. “For our athletes also being able to see the football team and the wrestling team and synchro and pistol achieve the same thing, you can really appreciate how hard it is and how exciting it is and how much it takes."