BYU celebrates ‘fantastic’ sports year after a top-30 finish in the national standings

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU's men's basketball team celebrates from the bench as the Cougars complete a 95-80 rout of Utah State on Dec. 5, 2018 in the Marriott Center.

Provo • Around the country, the perception persists that BYU’s move to football independence in 2011 and into the West Coast Conference for most of its other teams has had a damaging effect on the school.

For instance, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports last week called BYU one of the “losers of the decade of realignment in college sports,” and said its rogue football program has had a “mediocre decade of treading water” since it left the Mountain West Conference after the 2010 season.

The truth is that while BYU’s marquee sports — football and men’s basketball — may have tailed off a bit the past few years, its overall athletic program continues to be one of the best in the country. In the recently released Learfield Sports IMG Directors’ Cup standings for the 2018-19 school year, BYU is 29th, its highest finish since it was 26th in 2006-07.

Three of the past four years the Cougars have been in the top 31 of the standings that measure overall sports supremacy by awarding points based on each institution’s finish in the NCAA championships. BYU has perennially finished higher than any other so-called non-Power 5 school in the country.

And in the more than 30 year history of the Directors’ Cup, BYU has never finished below any other Utah school. This year, Utah is 79th, Southern Utah is 101st, Utah State is 143rd, Weber State is 147th and Utah Valley is 247th among the 295 Division I schools in the country.

“It’s been a fantastic year,” said Liz Darger, BYU’s senior associate athletic director/senior woman administrator.

As Forde noted, despite knocking off Arizona and Wisconsin on the road and leading Utah 27-7 late in the third quarter, BYU football was mostly mediocre. The Cougars finished the regular season with a 6-6 record before walloping Western Michigan 49-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Coach Kalani Sitake is 20-19 in three seasons.

BYU men’s basketball ruled instate play for the second-straight year. The Cougars defeated Utah, Utah Valley and Utah State by double figures and inexplicably lost at Weber State, but they continue to live in the shadow of national powerhouse Gonzaga at the conference level, adding to the perception that they’ve underachieved in hoops.

Throw men’s and women’s basketball out of the equation, however, and no school dominates its conference like BYU dominates the West Coast Conference. The Cougars recently won their seventh-straight WCC Commissioner’s Cup crown in their eighth year in the league.

Eight BYU teams won conference titles and 13 advanced to the NCAA championships — including the women’s volleyball team that was ranked No. 1 most of the season and advanced to the Final Four.

Women’s soccer returned to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence, while women’s basketball defeated nationally ranked Gonzaga three times, including in the WCC tournament, and then upset Auburn 73-64 in the NCAA championships before losing 72-63 to Stanford on the Cardinal’s home floor.

Nine of BYU’s 11 women’s sports programs made it to the NCAAs.

“Our women’s teams really shined this year,” Darger said. “It all starts with outstanding coaches who are passionate about recruiting the best student-athletes, and helping them reach their goals and become successful in all areas of life. Our student-athletes are remarkable. Their achievements are a testament to their commitment to excellence and their trust in their coaches.”

The highlights for the men were the cross country team’s second-place finish at nationals and Clayton Young’s national championship in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Track and Field Championships.

If the Cougars can get their football program playing like it did 10 years ago — the last time they beat rival Utah — and new men’s basketball coach Mark Pope can solve the Gonzaga dilemma, athletic director Tom Holmoe sees another big sports year on the horizon.

“Football and basketball are our bread and butter,” Holmoe said last January. “That’s what we do. That’s our revenue stream. I get it. I understand totally what those mean, the importance of those programs.”

Learfield Sports IMG College Directors’ Cup

How BYU and Utah have finished past 13 years

BYU in WCC & Football Independent, Utah in Pac-12

2018-19 — BYU 29th, Utah 79th

2017-18 — BYU 45th, Utah 61st

2016-17 — BYU 31st, Utah 54th

2015-16 — BYU 30th, Utah 51st

2014-15 — BYU 48th, Utah 56th

2013-14 — BYU 42nd, Utah 72nd

2012-13 — BYU 43rd, Utah 77th

2011-12 — BYU 43rd, Utah 74th

Both Schools in Mountain West Conference

2010-11 — BYU 37th, Utah 71st

2009-10 — BYU 36th, Utah 75th

2008-09 — BYU 47th, Utah 51st

2007-08 — BYU 41st, Utah 82nd

2006-07 — BYU 26th, Utah 60th