Why they're not just about winning and losing anymore. A look at some of the best--and worst--programs.
For countless American sports fans, late March is like nothing else, a three-week, high-wire, nail-biting fit of delirium known, formally, as the NCAA men's basketball tournament. "March Madness" may bestride the Ides of March, but there's really nothing to beware of--unless it's that scrappy little low-seed Cinderella squad that knocks your alma mater or your kid's school out of the Big Dance in an early round. But, hey, that's what March Madness is all about. Each year, the tournament seems to grow larger in scope, dominating the sports landscape beyond almost anything else, including, yes, that's right, the Super Bowl. Sixty-five teams are invited to this year's show, and while upsets usually make for a compelling story line in the early going, the schools likely to hold court at the end are all pretty much household names: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland.
Ditto for football, America's other larger-than-life college sports obsession. Season after season, many of the same schools seem to dominate: Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida State, and Miami of Florida.
But the fact is, there's more to big-time college sports than football and basketball, and lots more to a successful program than just wins and losses. Owing in part to the expansion of sports opportunities for women, many schools today offer upwards of 20 varsity sports and support hundreds of undergraduates with full or partial athletic scholarships. Most of these sports draw little attention, and less scrutiny. But they're every bit as much a part of a university's athletic program as the beefy offensive lineman or the silk-smooth point guard whose photos grace the pages of the local newspaper's sports section. These unsung athletes work just as hard and compete just as fiercely, whether in the pool, on the wrestling mat, or out on the shooting range. And success isn't measured only on the field. Lots of schools win by making sure that their athletes get high-quality educations and graduate, having actually learned something. Playing by the rules and staying off probation, they may not win championships year in and year out, but their student-athletes are winners in the best sense of the word.
This week, U.S.News & World Report inaugurates an effort to go beyond the headlines of the sports pages and examine more broadly the quality of America's Division I athletic programs. Because college sports are not just about wins and losses and the big-money programs, the magazine dispatched a team of writers, editors, and photographers to assess the depth, breadth, and integrity of university athletic programs in Division I.
Besides the programs in five areas, we are also listing an honor roll of 20 schools that succeed in several categories and have avoided major penalties from the National Collegiate Athletic Association over the past decade. In the tradition of U.S. News's Best Colleges and Best Graduate Schools issues, we hope this information will be useful for prospective student-athletes and their families who want to know more about the athletic programs at schools that they might be considering.
The U.S. News College Sports Honor Roll recognizes 20 schools with the best overall rankings across four categories of achievement. They are listed alphabetically. Schools with major NCAA infractions in the past 10 years were excluded.
Boston College, Boston
Brown University, Providence, R.I.
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
Duke University, Durham, N.C.
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa.
Pennsylvania State University-University Park
Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.
Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
University of Connecticut, Storrs
University of Hawaii-Manoa
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
University of Maryland-College Park
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of New Hampshire, Durham
University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Villanova University, Villanova, Pa.
The graduation rate ranking was not computed for Ivy League schools, which do not offer athletic scholarships and do not report that rate to the NCAA. Other data indicate that the Ivy League schools in the Honor Roll have athletic graduation rates that are among the highest in Division I.
This story appears in the March 18, 2002 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.