Baylor has been hammered in the media for almost two years as the fallout from the university’s sexual assault scandal continues to unfold.
With lawsuits still coming and the NCAA investigating the football program, it’s hard to see an end in sight.
But the Bears are still thriving on the field, and the final Learfield Directors’ Cup standings prove it.
When the College World Series ended the NCAA’s sports year, Baylor stood 24th nationally as an athletic program. The Bears nearly matched their all-time best No. 23 finish two years ago, and made a significant jump from last year’s No. 56 finish.
The only Big 12 schools to finish ahead of Baylor were No. 7 Texas and No. 17 Oklahoma. Stanford won the all-sports title for the 22nd straight year.
Leading the way were the Baylor basketball teams. Kim Mulkey’s women’s squad won its seventh straight Big 12 title and advanced to the Elite Eight for the fourth straight year. Scott Drew’s men’s squad achieved its first No. 1 ranking in January and advanced to the Sweet 16.
While the basketball teams were high-profile success stories, Baylor experienced exceptional performances across the board.
Women’s indoor track and field won its first Big 12 championship. The Baylor softball team finished second in the Big 12 and reached the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time under Glenn Moore.
The men’s golf team achieved its first No. 1 ranking in school history and won its first NCAA regional title. The women’s golf team also made the NCAA tournament and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Both the baseball and volleyball teams made long awaited returns to the NCAA tournament under second-year coaches. Steve Rodriguez’s baseball team returned for the first time since 2012 while Ryan McGuyre’s volleyball team made the tournament for the first time since 2011.
The Baylor tennis teams had their usual outstanding seasons as the men’s squad reached the round of 16 and the women’s team reached the round of 32.
Of course, the football team drew the most attention as interim coach Jim Grobe came out of retirement to put the pieces together after Art Briles was fired. It was an up-and-down season but the Bears ended on a high note with a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl to secure their seventh straight winning season.
Baylor would have likely finished higher in the Directors’ Cup standings if all its sports were included. But the acrobatics and tumbling team’s national championship and the equestrian team’s national tournament appearance didn’t count toward the standings since they’re not NCAA championship sports.
It was an unquestionable success for first-year Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades.
“I am continuously impressed by the tremendous leadership of our coaches and staff members and the dedication of our student-athletes,” Rhoades said. “Having our institution well represented in the postseason, earning three Big 12 championships and posting a record 790.25 points in the Learfield Sports NACDA Directors’ Cup are testaments to that.”
Regardless of the sport, Baylor players and coaches were peppered with questions about the sexual assault scandal and how it affected them as they advanced through the NCAA championships. But they all handled it with class and accentuated the positive.
Moore was asked about the scandal before his softball team began play in the Women’s College World Series, and he focused on the steps Baylor has made to correct its problems. He pointed out that sexual assault isn’t just a Baylor issue, it’s a nationwide issue.
“I think we’ve become the model school for correcting the mistakes we’ve made, and it will be a shame if other schools that are making the same mistakes that we made don’t follow that,” Moore said. “My desire is there will be focus nationwide on the cultural issues that we have going on in our society rather than just attacking Baylor.”
The Lady Bears went two-and-out in the World Series. But they represented Baylor well in a very difficult but successful year for the entire athletic program.