If you hang around sports fans enough, you'll eventually hear sentences such as so-and- so "is a great football school" or so-and so "has great basketball tradition" when describing a particular university. Rarely do you hear the phrase "baseball school" uttered, but I suppose it happens if you're at a Rice alumni dinner. See what I did there? Rice…dinner. Aah, but I digress. When thinking about Oregon State, I think first and foremost it's a football school, but that notion is derived mostly from the fact that, for me, football is the most interesting sport to watch, has the most prestige (i.e. "bragging rights") amongst fellow college sport fans, and therefore it gets the most relevance and notoriety nationally. In other words, it's a football school because I want it to be, and the football team is relevant right now. Additionally, I've only begun following OSU athletics within the past ten years. Which leads me to my next point: if I asked an old-timer, he or she would probably tell me OSU is a basketball school. Basketball is the second most prestigious university sport, and OSU has an impressive resume, including two final fours, but these were in 1949 and 1963, prompting my old-timer comment above. The least prestigious men's sport is baseball. However, OSU has a long-standing tradition of success on the diamond transcending many decades. For example, in 1962 OSU was ranked 15th in the nation; 1963 saw them 10th; 1985 (29th); 1986 (23rd); and of course the recent string of 2005 (7th); 2006 (1st); 2007 (1st); and 2009 (24th). Even before polls were instilled, the Beavers won 13 conference titles dating as far back as 1908. So what type of school is OSU? Here are some numbers that might shed light on the question. The following numbers are as of the last completed season for each respective sport:
- Baseball| National Titles (2); Conference Titles (22); College World Series Appearances (4); Tournament Appearances (10); Ranked Teams (8); All-time wins (1990, which is 39th all-time); Winning Percentage (.600, which is 50th all-time).
*A point to note when examining any sport is that winning percentage is a better measure of success than total wins, as many programs have more wins due to longevity. A perfect example of this is Fordham, who has the most DI victories, but they have fielded a team for 149 years, where as the Beavers have laced them up for a century.
- Basketball| National Titles (0); Conference Titles (20); NCAA Tournament Appearances (16), Final Fours (2); Elite Eight (6) Ranked Teams (13), All-time Wins (1,594 which is 15th all-time), Winning Percentage (.575). The basketball team under Slats Gill, was by all accounts, the glory years of OSU athletics. The 1940's saw some great Beaver teams, and they would have more in the "ranked" column above if not for the fact that the NCAA didn't begin college basketball polls until 1949.
- Football| National Titles (0); Conference Titles (5); Rose Bowls (3); Ranked Teams (11); BCS games (1 offical, 4 if you count the 3 Rose Bowls); Heisman Trophy Winners (1); Wins (494, which ranks 70th all-time); Winning Percentage (.483, which ranks 95th). As many know, the football program holds one of the more humiliating records in college athletics, having a losing record for 28 seasons. Rice had 28 "non-winning" seasons, which included two .500 campaigns, thus allowing OSU to hold this humiliating record to themselves.
My initial thought after crunching the numbers is that OSU is first and foremost a baseball school. After all, the teams +60% winning rate is highest of the three major men's sports and they earned the school's only national titles. What better way to gauge success? But then I had to consider the dominance of the basketball team under Slats Gill and Ralph Miller. Gill has the most wins in school history, and Miller has the highest winning percentage. And then there is football. For me, the 70s and 80s ruined what was once (and could have been) a glorious and prestigious record book. The Beavers futility coincided with the advent of sports television, which ingrained the loser perception into the national media until this day. As much as we fans love football, and it's the sport that garners the most posts, attention, and response on this blog, I have a really hard time saying OSU is a "football school" after looking through the record book. My ranking would be:
Agree or disagree? I'd like to hear the perspective of some old-timers who lived through the glory years of all these respective sports. I'm sure they can shed some light on it.