The Case For Stanford Being the Best Program in College Sports


I know this is a Washington Huskies based website and I love my Dawgs. But, we at Husky Haul like to keep an eye out for all things Pac-12 since they ultimately affect the reputation of the Huskies on a national level. Following last week’s pummeling by Stanford, I thought to myself…How does a university ranked #3 in the world academically, who does NOT lower their extremely high academic standards for their student athletes, end up with the #4 football team in the nation? That’s when I thought of this article…

If someone asked you “which college sports program is the best in the nation”, people would probably immediately think about which schools produce both Top 20 football and Top 20 basketball program simultaneously. They might consider some of the other sports like women’s basketball, baseball, and soccer as well. Many people on the East Coast would probably name schools like Florida, Texas, Michigan State, North Carolina, Penn State, or Tennessee.

But, when you actually compile the statistics, it is Stanford, and it isn’t even close. Stanford has won 17 consecutive NACDA Director’s Cups (the award goes to the program with the best overall results in all sports combined). Let me repeat that for you … Stanford has had the best overall athletic program in NCAA Division I sports for 17 consecutive years!

Stanford also ranks 2nd in the country in total NCAA Division I national championships at 101, just 6 behind first place UCLA. By the way, third place goes to another Pac-12 bretheren USC at 93 title and then fourth place is a very distant Oklahoma State at 50 titles. As an aside, the Pac-12 conference has won a combined 442 national championships in team sports, which is more than 150 above the next closest conference, the Big Ten. That is why the Pac-12 is the “Conference of Champions”.

However, to say Stanford has a great athletic program simply because they win so many titles in swimming, golf, gymnastics, and tennis is not even seeing the full picture. When you consider the academic requirements of this institution, it is amazing they even win any titles. Stanford is ranked almost universally among the top 5 academic universities in the nation, along with the likes of Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Princeton. What makes Stanford unique among those top schools is that while they do offer scholarships for student-athletes, they do NOT lower their admittance standards. An athlete that wants to attend Stanford must be able to meet those very stringent academic requirements first and foremost.

In most universities in the country, there is a very large dichotomy between the admittance requirements of the university and who they will accepted under an athletic scholarship. A huge number, if not the vast majority, of student-athletes in football and men’s basketball nationwide probably would not get into many of the major universities they play for (except maybe weak academic SEC and Conference USA schools) if they were trying to be accepted as a regular student based on grades and SAT scores alone. But, the fact that they can dunk a basketball or throw a football gets them in. As long as they meet the very weak NCAA minimum standards, they are in. Whether they graduate? Who cares, the team won games and everyone is happy.

A small number of major academic institutions, Washington and UC-Berkeley to name two, hold their student-athletes to a higher admittance standard than the NCAA minimum. Whether they hold them to exactly the “same” standards as the general public is debatable. I personally can think of a few current UW student-athletes that I doubt would have made it in on academic merits alone. But, clearly there have also been high profile cases of players who met the NCAA minimum standards but still did not get admitted to the school (remember Charles Garcia?). And, when you are one of the top 20 schools in the country, you have to have a higher standard or else the student-athletes would be in over their head and would have a low likelihood of graduating.

But, Stanford takes it to the next level. It isn’t about holding students to something above the minimum. They have to get in academically on their own merits, regardless of their abilities on the field. I personally have done very well for myself academically, attending a Top 20 school in the world for my undergraduate degree (UW), getting good grades in both HS and college, getting my Master’s degree from one of the top 6 programs in my field (Michigan State), and yet I would NOT have been admitted to Stanford.

So, exactly how does Stanford have the #4 ranked football team in the country? The media goes gaga over Alabama and Louisiana State, yet half their team could probably not even be able to spell their universities’ name. Stanford is competing against the corruption of money in recruiting and grade scandals (Kentucky and Memphis anyone?) by holding their standards high and basically saying “You have to be the one who wants to come here and then we’ll consider you.”

And yet, here is Stanford competing at a high level in football and men’s basketball. Stanford has certainly had its ups and downs in both sports over the years, and yet they have made Final Fours and Rose Bowls more recently than many teams in the Pac-10 who did not have the same academic requirements. To me it is a testiment to what the concept of the NCAA student-athlete should be all about. It isn’t all about the money, the TV revenue, and talking heads. It is about providing a quality education for college students, and at the same time, offering them quality opportunities to compete on the field, in the gym, or in the water in the extracurricular event of their choice.

Stanford may not get the press, but the Pac-12 should be proud to have them in the league!