Learfield Director's Cup Ranks OSU In Top 20
By Kevin Klintworth
The Learfield Directors’ Cup measures each university’s national finishes in NCAA postseason competition throughout an athletic year to determine America’s most successful athletic departments.
The standings are based on a cumulative point total. Qualifying for an NCAA championship event nets a school a smattering of Learfield points. Winning a national title is good for 100 points.
Schools can use the results of 20 of their sports teams toward their Learfield point total (10 men’s teams and 10 women’s teams).
Oklahoma State sponsors 18 sports (spending approximately $80 million), and only 17 of those programs can be counted in the Learfield Cup standings because equestrian is not yet recognized as an NCAA sport.
The 2015-16 school year was a banner one at Oklahoma State. OSU led the Big 12 Conference with eight league championships. From the Sugar Bowl to the College World Series to NCAA runner-up finishes by wrestling and women’s tennis, OSU made its presence felt across college athletics.
Incredibly, 15 of OSU’s 17 eligible sports scored Learfield Cup points for the athletic department. Eight programs earned top-10 finishes and 11 teams finished the year in the equivalent of their Sweet 16. Fourteen programs ended the year in their top 25. OSU had 28 All-Americans in 11 sports, four individual national champions and four Big 12 players of the year.
As a result, Oklahoma State finished No. 13 nationally in the final 2015-16 Learfield Cup standings. It is the highest finish ever by OSU.
When it comes to finances, only one school in the final 2015-16 Learfield Cup had expenditures less than Oklahoma State. It was No. 11 California, which has 28 sports and finished ahead of Oklahoma State by just 8.75 points.
Texas and its 20 sports finished ninth in the Learfield Cup to lead the Big 12, with OSU second in the league. Texas also spent somewhere close to $153 million, about twice as much as OSU, to accomplish that feat. Texas and OSU were the only Big 12 schools to finish in the top 15 of the Learfield Cup.
Winning on the Women’s Side
(PHOTO / BRUCE WATERFIELD)
Entering the 2015-16 athletic year, OSU had been on a slow, steady rise in the Learfield Cup standings. The 2011-12 athletic year saw the school anchored at No. 42. The next year there was a jump to 27th and then a school-best No. 22 in 2013-14. Last year, OSU was No. 28 before climbing all the way to 13th.
The rising tide of OSU Athletics has been fueled greatly by the OSU women. Of OSU’s eight conference championships in 2015-16, five were won by women’s programs, including some landmark championships. Cowgirl cross country won the league for the first time, while women’s tennis — Big 12 champs for the first time since 2003 — marched through the regular season and conference tournament without losing a match. But the success has been across the board for the Cowgirls.
The equestrian program won the Big 12 for the fourth time in five years.
The women’s track and cross country teams had record-breaking seasons. Not only did the Cowgirls win the Big 12 cross country title for the first time, but their national finish in cross country was seventh, the best championship performance by OSU since 1989.
And the female runners weren’t finished. As a team, OSU was 10th at the NCAA track and field indoor national championships and 12th at the NCAA track and field outdoor national championship meet. Both finishes were the best in school history.
First-year coach Kenny Gajewski took over an OSU softball program that had not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since reaching the Women’s College World Series in 2011. He led his youthful squad to a trip to the 2016 NCAA regional final and extended the homestanding Georgia Bulldogs to a one-game, winner-take-all finale. Georgia qualified for the Women’s World Series the next week by ousting two-time national champion Florida in a two-game sweep.
The OSU women’s golf program picked up its first Big 12 championship since 2013, and its 11th place finish in the national championship tournament was its best since 2010.
Under coach Jim Littell, the Cowgirl basketball program has become a regular in the NCAA Tournament with four straight appearances since the NIT championship season in March of 2012.
The strong showing by the women’s teams simply set the stage for a month of fun provided by the Cowgirl tennis program. First it was a romp through the Big 12 Conference postseason tournament, hosted at the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.
The following week it was the NCAA regional tournament, once again held in Stillwater. The Cowgirls cruised through the competition to reach the national tournament in Tulsa where 16 regional champions gathered to decide the national title. In front of packed crowds decked out in orange, OSU marched to the national championship match, upsetting fifth-seed Georgia, fourth-seed Ohio State and No. 1-seed California. In a thrilling back-and-forth finale, the Cowgirls fell to Stanford but may have blazed new trails along the way, according to coach Chris Young.
“When one program has success, it inspires others to envision what is possible for them,” he says. “On the women’s side, we are all striving to be the first program to win a national title, and that has driven us all to a higher standard. It is fun to see your peers achieving at a high level, and I hope we can build on what was an amazing year.”
Young doesn’t believe that surge in the success of OSU’s women’s programs is an accident.
“One of the greatest assets at Oklahoma State is the staff within our athletic department and the caliber of coaches Mike Holder has hired during his tenure,” Young says. “With increased resources for the women’s programs and a greater emphasis placed on our success, we have been able to push each other to higher levels.”
Holder agrees with Young that it is more than coincidence that has led several Cowgirl programs into national relevancy.
“The coincidence is the product of excellent coaching and a commitment from the administration to fund each sport at a level that allows them to compete for championships,” Holder says. “A significant part of that commitment is facilities, and we still have some work to do in that area.”
Nick Miller won the National Championship in the Hammer Throw. (PHOTO / BRUCE WATERFIELD)
The men’s programs were far from idle over the past year, and their national finishes covered the entire academic calendar.
The cross country team once again brought home a top-20 finish, placing 18th at the NCAA Championships after sweeping conference and regional titles.
The Cowboys captured the Big 12 indoor track and field title for the second time in three years. The men were No. 24 at the NCAA indoor meet and finished 15th at the outdoor national championships. OSU is now perceived as one of America’s top programs when combining track and field and cross country programs.
The OSU football team was credited with finishing 19th nationally in the Learfield standings after its 10-3 season and Allstate Sugar Bowl appearance.
The Cowboy wrestling program overcame injuries to two starters to finish second at the national championships, in what would have to be considered an over-achievement by John Smith’s crew.
Another OSU staple on the national scene — men’s golf — finished 10th at the NCAAs.
The runner-up finish by the women’s tennis team overshadowed another developing program at the Greenwood Tennis Center as the men’s tennis team returned to the national stage with a run of its own to the sweet 16, where it lost to eventual national champion Virginia.
Like the boost the OSU women got from the Cinderella run by tennis, the men’s programs got a boost from a late spurt when Cowboy baseball got hot. Very hot.
The Cowboys’ postseason featured seven straight wins, including a regional championship at Clemson (ACC Tournament champion) and a super regional sweep of perennial SEC power South Carolina.
OSU closed the season by going 2-2 in the College World Series. It was OSU’s first appearance in Omaha since 1999, and the third-place finish at the CWS was OSU’s best since 1993.
According to Holder, the idea of a well-rounded program at Oklahoma State is nothing new.
“In my opinion, all of the sports success at OSU began with Ed Gallagher,” Holder says of the legendary father of collegiate wrestling. “The dynasty he built inspired coaches and athletes of other programs to dream of winning championships, which has resulted in 51 NCAA banners hanging from the top of Gallagher-Iba Arena.”
Dating back to 2004, Oklahoma State has won at least one Big 12 championship in 12 different sports. The tradition of winning across the board is still strong at OSU.
2015-16 Learfield Directors' Cup Final Standings
This story first published in the Summer 2016 issue of POSSE Magazine. To read other great OSU athletic stories, consider joining the POSSE. Annual donations to OSU athletics of $150 or more qualify for POSSE membership and include an annual subscription to POSSE Magazine. Visit okstateposse.com for details.
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Uploaded on December 1, 2016