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What BYU’s final ranking in Directors’ Cup says about Cougars’ athletic program

When it comes to trending, the BYU athletic department is moving in the right direction

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BYU football coach Kalani Sitake gives a thumbs-up during BYU football media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo.

Kalani Sitake, BYU’s head football coach, gives a thumbs-up during BYU football media day at the BYU Broadcasting Building in Provo on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

It’s official: BYU is back. The school again boasts one of the top athletic departments in the country, according to the Directors’ Cup standings.

The Directors’ Cup quantifies the overall success of a school’s athletic department by awarding points based on its finish in each of the NCAA sports (in championship events, or, in the case of football and basketball, the polls).

Why should you care about this? Read on.

BYU finished 17th out of 293 Division I schools with 871.25 points; Texas finished No. 1, with 1,252 points, marking the first time in the history of the Directors’ Cup that a school other than Stanford won the “championship.” Texas won national championships in men’s swimming and diving, women’s rowing and women’s tennis and finished second in women’s volleyball.

BYU scored points in 14 sports. Of BYU’s 871.25 points in the Directors’ Cup compilation, 511.5 came from women’s sports — about 59%.

Almost half (49%) of BYU’s points came from the sister sports of indoor and outdoor track and cross-country, which are scored as six teams between men and women.

• The women’s cross-country team won the NCAA championships in March (worth 100 points).

• The men’s volleyball team finished second in the NCAA tournament (90 points).

• The women’s track and field team finished seventh in the NCAA indoor championships.

• The men’s cross-country team finished seventh in the NCAA championships.

• The women’s volleyball team finished ninth.

• The women’s track team placed 10th in the NCAA outdoor championships.

• The football team was ranked 11th in the final polls.

• BYU also received top-25 finishes in men’s indoor and outdoor track, women’s gymnastics, women’s soccer, softball, women’s basketball and men’s basketball.

Of the top 50 schools in the final standings, BYU is the only one that does not belong to one of the so-called Power Five conferences.

The University of Utah finished 70th in the final Directors’ Cup standings, which is about where the school normally finishes. Utah was 11th in the Pac-12 in Director’s Cup points. Only Washington State fared worse.

Utah Valley placed 99th, Utah State 109th, Southern Utah 128th, Weber State 171st.

The Directors’ Cup matters because it rewards broad-based athletic programs. Schools should strive to provide opportunities to develop many different abilities — not just for athletes who are extremely tall or very big (not just basketball and football players). That would be the equivalent of a university offering degrees only in math and English, but offering nothing for the musically or artistically inclined, or those who excel in science.

For obvious reasons (money), most universities are turning into football and basketball operations with a university attached. Those sports support the rest of the other sports, so there’s no dismissing their importance in the college athletics business model. Some schools have eliminated some of the traditional minor sports — the Utes haven’t had a men’s track or cross-country team for years — to meet financial and Title IX demands.

To its credit, BYU has always produced a broad-based athletic program, fielding national-class programs in the Olympic sports such as gymnastics, track and field, cross-country, soccer and, before cutting the program, wrestling. Until a recent resurgence, the success of the overall program declined from about 2003 to 2018.

The Cougars experienced their two lowest rankings during those years — 48th in 2015, 45th in 2018 — since the rankings were created nearly three decades ago. During the first 14 years of the rankings (1994-2007), the Cougars’ average was 24.6 (and it would have been higher if the Cup rankings had been tallied years before that). During the next 11 years, their average ranking was 40.3.

The Cougars have been trending up since then. They reached 29th in the 2019 Directors’ Cup standings (there were no rankings in 2020). This year’s No. 17 ranking marked the first time since 2002 that they finished in the top 25.

The Directors’ Cup just restated the obvious: BYU had a standout school year on the athletic field.