Last week, I was having lunch with a friend of mine outside of Old Main. We were busy munching on Mall hot dogs and making fun of the freshmen at orientation when the topic turned to sports. Between bites, I made a bold assertion that sparked a heated debate between us.
"You know, the U of A really had a great year in intercollegiate athletics." I said it casually, but I knew it would spark a quick response from my buddy.
"What!? Are you crazy, man?" A drop of mustard fell from his hot dog to his leg, but he was too excited to notice or care. "I think it was probably one of the most lackluster years for Arizona sports in a long time."
"Wrong," I said, handing him a napkin. "Arizona's sports teams were extremely successful in 1994-95, and I'm going to prove it to you."
My friend, like many casual observers of UA sports, was not very impressed with Wildcat teams as a whole last year.
And a cursory glance at last year might seem to justify that sentiment:
¨Dick Tomey's football squad, picked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated, finishes a respectable 8-4. But there is no Rose Bowl, no magic 10-2 season capped by a huge bowl victory as in 1993-94.
¨Arizona basketball, led by All-American Damon Stoudamire, loses to a determined Miami (Ohio) team in the first round of the NCAA championship tournament.
¨Jerry Kindall's baseball team finishes 20-35-1, with a Pac-10 record of 6-24.
But it would be a mistake to look at at examples like those as evidence that Arizona had a down year in sports.
And I was determined to show my friend that if you considered a myriad of sports, both men's and women's, Arizona would have one of the country's most successful athletic programs.
Of course, I had just seen the results of the second Sears Directors Cup, an award for overall excellence in college sports, and I knew that Arizona had placed fourth in the nationwide competition.
A trio of lost freshmen wandered by, oblivious to our conversation. I took a drink of my soda and decided to fill my friend in on some basic facts of the Directors' Cup.
It's a national award for achieving the best intercollegiate record in NCAA Division I men's and women's sports. The award is sponsored by Sears in partnership with the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
Stanford University won the second annual award, which was presented to Stanford athletic director Ted Leland at last week's annual NACDA convention in Las Vegas.
The final standings are based on points earned for each school's finish in 22 sports, 10 core sports for men, 10 core sports for women and one wild card sport each for men and women.
Stanford scored in 19 of the 22 possible sports, earning a 971.5. Other top five finishers were North Carolina (789.5), UCLA (736.5), Arizona (716.5), and Florida (691).
"So," I explained as two bicyclists sped by, "this competition awards schools with quality teams of both sexes in different sports. It's really a good measure of an entire program, as opposed to just one or two teams."
He opened up a bag of chips. "But Stanford? What the heck were they good at?"
Well, try this: the Cardinal won five national titles, in women's volleyball and swimming/diving, and men's gymnastics, water polo, and tennis.
Stanford also recorded top 10 national finishes in women's basketball, tennis, golf, soccer and cross country, and in men's swimming, golf, baseball and cross country.
"Wow." I could see that he was impressed. He crunched a couple more chips and said "That's a pretty strong program. And you're seriously telling me that Arizona finished fourth in this thing?"
"Sure," I told him, "look at the facts. The U of A was awarded points for good performances in a lot of different sports."
¨Cross country. Senior Martin Keino led the men to a third-place finish at the NCAA championships, winning the individual title.
For the women's team, senior Suzanne Castruita finished seventh at the NCAA's.
¨Volleyball. David Rubio's squad struggled through a rough year before making a return appearance to the Sweet Sixteen.
¨Softball. Even though they lost in the national championship game to UCLA , Mike Candrea's team spent many weeks ranked No. 1 and broke a ton of NCAA records.
¨Swimming. Junior Robert Abernethy finished third in the 100 breaststroke at the NCAA meet, and was named All-American in the 200 free relay and 400 medley relay.
Ashley Tappin, who will begin her junior season next year, won not one but two national championships at the NCAA meet. She won the 50 and 200 freestyle and placed second in the 100 freestyle.
¨Golf. Junior Ted Purdy finished second at the NCAA's, and the men's team placed tenth overall.
¨Tennis. Freshman Vicky Maes was named All-American and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
My friend was silent, deep in thought for a couple of minutes. "So you're telling me," he said, "that the good ol' U of A has the fourth-best overall athletic program in the country?"
I told him that according to the Director's Cup formula, that was indeed the case. He nodded, seemingly satisfied with what I'd told him.
As we tossed the remnants of our lunch in the trash, he turned to me and said "You know, Arizona has had a pretty good year in intercollegiate athletics last year."
"Indeed," I told him. "And ASU was nowhere near the top ten."
We both got a kick out of that one.
R.P. Parsons has a bachelor's in English literature and plans to attend graduate school in the fall.
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