Many have called the 2014-15 athletic year the year of the Big Ten, and Jim Delany's league did enjoy a nice revival, highlighted by the twin slayings of Alabama football and Kentucky men's basketball in national semifinals by Ohio State and Wisconsin.
But a wise man - the one you are reading right now - once said the true measure of a conference's strength is how often it puts its teams in a position to succeed in a wide array of sports. And in 2014-15, no one compared to the SEC.
With the College World Series set to begin Saturday, the two-week event that annually closes the college athletics year, below is a chart listing the participants in the three major team sports events in both the men's and women's side. (For those wondering, the Big 12 and SEC don't sponsor men's soccer and only the Big Ten sponsors hockey, so those sports were excluded.) Each team is listed in order of finish, save for the to-be-completed College World Series, which is listed in alphabetical order.
Volleyball Final Four
MBB Final Four
WBB Final Four
College World Series
Cal State Fullerton
To avoid overemphasizing the diamond sports, baseball and softball appearances are divided in two.
Total Major Event Appearances:
Big Ten: 5.5
Big 12: 1.5
West Coast: 1
Big West: 0.5
Now let's break it down per capita for each conference, since the ACC's Olympic sports 25-team membership is 50 percent larger than the 10-team Big 12.
Major Event Appearances Per Capita. Let's call it the Barnett Score:
Big Ten: 0.39
Big 12: 0.15
West Coast: 0.1
Big West: 0.05
Again, maybe this doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. But it does confirm something we already know: the SEC is better, and deeper, than the competition right now. Thus far the SEC has claimed only one title - Florida softball - but oftentimes winning titles boil down to matchups, luck and a million other circumstances. Put your teams in position to win year after year, sport after sport, and chances are you'll rake in your share of hardware. See the last decade in football for evidence.
“I think a lot of the (SEC) schools and administrators do not like status quo,” Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy told the Oklahoman late last month. “When they see somebody do well, they're going to go back and say, ‘Wait a minute, we've got to do that.’ And I think it's just evolved from there. You can see how many either coaching changes, facility changes, upgrades. You know if somebody wins in football, somebody else is going to try to win the next year.” SEC administrators are more competitive because their constituencies demand it.
The SEC had 27 percent more representation than the second-place Big Ten twice as much per capita representation than the third-place ACC, was joined by the Big Ten in placing teams in five of the six major events and, most impressively, boasted depth that no major league could match, with a whopping nine schools - Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt - reaching a major stage. And look at the five schools that didn't make a major event accomplished: Mississippi State spent several weeks at No. 1 in football, Ole Miss appeared in the first set of College Football Playoff rankings, Missouri won a New Year's Day bowl game, Georgia finished in the top 10 in football, and Texas A&M was one 16th-inning run away from reaching the College World Series and reached the women's soccer semifinals.
Want to know what the ESPN, CBS and CFP money has done for the SEC? It has completely eliminated the dead weight.