While covering West Virginia University athletics has become a year-round endeavor, the summer months of June and July do give us a chance to catch our collective breath and prepare for the madness that begins anew in August. And because we didn't want our staff getting complacent, we loaded them up with a seemingly simple, yet deceptively difficult task: ranking West Virginia's athletic programs in order of their current status and success.
Such an assignment might sound pretty basic, until you think about it. How much does the history of a program come into play? How much does current momentum count? Does a team on an upward improvement arc rate more highly than one that is stagnant, but perhaps at the same level of current achievement? What about programs with new coaches? Where do graduation rates fall? How do teams that are faced with poor facilities to be judged? Those are just a few of the factors to be considered.
With those thoughts swimming, we laid out some basic ground rules. A team's history can have a bit of consideration, but we're really looking at what each squad has done over the last two or three years. Are they competing for championships or national honors? Are teams on the rise, or at least competitive in their league or against their peer groups? Are there signs of improvement? Is the program stable, or do transfers and defections abound? Are there major legal or behavioral issues in play?
Getting past those challenges was hard enough, but another remained. How do you truly compare sports that are only team-oriented to those that have both team and individual competition? For example, the football and basketball teams must be judged on their records and results as a whole. However, in sports such as track and cross-country, individual championships and NCAA qualifications are also part of the mix, and must be taken into account. There's probably not one full set of criteria that allows those two widely differing metrics to be compared quantitatively, but we tried to take everything about a program into consideration in our rankings.
Once we set the rules in place, we kept our rankings simple. The top program in each voter's rankings received 16 points, the number two program 15, and so on. Add up the points, put them in order, and we have our list.
Beginning Monday, June 16, we'll roll out our results, one program at a time. And while there's probably not much drama at the top of the list, there are some outcomes that were a bit of a surprise, or at least sure to spark some debate. And by the time we're done, official preseason practices for fall sports will be but a month away.