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WSU moving up in overall athletic excellence

The Learfield Director’s Cup standings show the Cougars still have a long way to go to catch their peers, though.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve probably never heard of the Learfield Directors’ Cup. And if you have, it almost certainly wasn’t in relation to the Washington State Cougars ... unless you happened to read this week’s piece from Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde.

First, a little background.

The Learfield Cup is a “competition” in which athletics programs in all levels of the NCAA and NAIA are ranked in overall achievement. For the purposes of their Division I standings, a school accumulates points from its top 10 men’s and top 10 women’s program’s national finishes.

The Pac-12 annually puts a number of schools near the top, with Stanford winning the title pretty much every year. WSU ... well, not so much. Take it away, Pat:

Which schools are doing the worst all-around job? The three most egregiously out of step with their Power Five colleagues are Washington State, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

Washington State hasn’t cracked the top 100 in the Learfield standings since 2010. The loneliest outpost in the Pac-12 is starkly out of step with its conference brethren, which include eight of the five-year top 30. In 2012-13 the Cougars were No. 192, tucked away behind the likes of Canisius, Winthrop, Santa Clara and Northwestern State.

But, there’s good news! Although WSU ranks last among the 65 power conference schools over the past five years, the Cougs are trending upwards: “Trajectory: Up. The Cougars almost cracked the top 100 for the first time in the five-year period, cresting at No. 101. Five years ago they were No. 192, which is unfathomable.”

It sounds terrible, but there actually are a number of things working against WSU with regards to this sort of competition. The biggest and most obvious is this: WSU operates the smallest athletics program in the Pac-12, fielding just 15 sports. In a competition where raw points accumulation is the metric, the Cougs are always going to be behind the eight ball.

Additionally, WSU doesn’t have even has but one perennial top flight program to hang its hat on: Rowing. (Edit: Sorry to the rowing folks for forgetting about you initially. Mea culpa.) Track was excellent for a number of years under Rick Sloan, and women’s soccer is probably the next closest thing to that at the moment, but we’re not talking about a perennially top 10 program. Even OSU, which fields just 17 teams, has a few of those, with baseball, women’s basketball and women’s gymnastics. (The Beavers finished 69th.) Utah, which also fields 17 teams, finished 54th — in large part because of its national championship in skiing.

But like Forde says, the Cougs are heading in the right direction. Will WSU ever be able to ascend this list significantly? It’s hard to imagine without adding sports, and that won’t happen for quite a while — if ever.

WSU’s best hope is to do what Oregon State has done: Have a couple of dominant programs. Could you envision any of our programs getting to that point any time soon? Which one is most likely? Vote in the poll below and drop some thoughts in the comments.


Which program is most likely to become "premier" and lead WSU in a move up the Director’s Cup standings?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    (161 votes)
  • 18%
    (94 votes)
  • 5%
    Men’s or Women’s Track and Field
    (29 votes)
  • 2%
    Men’s or Women’s Golf
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Men’s or Women’s Cross Country
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Men’s Basketball
    (8 votes)
  • 5%
    Women’s Basketball
    (27 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    (54 votes)
  • 8%
    (41 votes)
  • 12%
    None of the above - we’ll be what we’ve always been.
    (65 votes)
508 votes total Vote Now


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