Basketball is Holding Georgia Back

It was brought to my attention by Bruins Nation that Rivals.com recently ranked college athletics programs based upon their combined success at baseball, basketball and football.

Rivals.com’s methodology was somewhat confusing---the formula, for instance, states contradictorily that a team gets five points for a third- or fourth-place finish in the College World Series but receives three points for the selfsame third- or fourth-place finish in the College World Series---but, assuming that we are all agreed that intercollegiate athletics are superior to professional sports, I thought it was worth exploring how the Bulldogs fared according to these rankings.

Rivals.com reports that Georgia ranks 17th overall since 1974, half a point behind No. 16 Notre Dame. The ‘Dawgs and the Irish were tied with 65 points apiece in football, but Notre Dame’s eight straight N.C.A.A. tournament appearances from 1999 to 2006 boosted the Golden Domers to 28 points in men’s basketball, whereas the Red and Black’s 25-year-old Final Four berth got Georgia only as far as 12 points. The Classic City Canines made up the difference with 32.5 points in baseball, far more than the 17 the Irish received on the strength of their 2002 trip to Omaha.

In the three biggest sports in the B.C.S. era, Florida finished third, Louisiana State fourth, Tennessee eighth, Georgia Tech eleventh, Alabama twelfth, Auburn 13th, and Arkansas 20th, but Georgia did not make the top 20 since 1998.

It is not hard to see where the deficiency lies. On the gridiron, the Bulldogs are tied for eleventh since 1974 and tied for ninth since 1998. On the diamond, the Red and Black are the country’s twelfth-best team over the last decade. On the hardwood, however, the Classic City Canines are nowhere to be found.

I believe my position on basketball has been made abundantly clear: it is an important sport and I understand why fans of it enjoy it as much as they do, but I personally regard it with something approximating indifference.

Surveys like this one, however, explain why it matters to me to see Georgia improve at men’s basketball. As I wrote last March:

It was one thing when S.E.C. basketball was Kentucky, occasionally Vanderbilt, and not much of anyone else; then, there was no shame in not being very good at something no one outside of the Bluegrass State seemed terribly interested in being good at doing.

Indeed, there was, in no small sense, rather a manly satisfaction to be derived from deriding the neighboring A.C.C. as "a basketball conference"---by which was meant, of course, only a basketball conference, a league that had to settle for being good at hoops because it lacked the masculine fortitude to excel on the gridiron. If the only way to be good at basketball was to be lousy at football---and, if Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and the Atlantic Coast Conference were any indication, that certainly seemed to be the case---then who cared about basketball?

That began to change around the time Arkansas changed conference allegiances. . . .

In short, the S.E.C. has gotten good at basketball, too, without sacrificing its commitment to quality football. . . .

An athletics program as prominent as Georgia's, and with as many natural and institutional advantages, ought to be good consistently at multiple sports, and certainly at the second-most important sport, in terms of money and prestige, in intercollegiate competition. My fear is that Dennis's Dogs, motivated by the desire to save their coach's imperiled job, played above their heads during a whirlwind four-day period in which they didn't have the time to think about the impossibility of what they were doing . . . but my hope is that this was the breakthrough that will put Georgia basketball on the road to respectability, significance, and, ultimately, success at the highest level.

If, instead of collecting an anemic 12 points in basketball since 1974, the Classic City Canines had amassed 25.5 points---equal to the totals earned by Alabama and Oklahoma State in that same span---Georgia would have finished with a cumulative 123 points in the three sports combined. That would have been good enough to boost the Bulldogs from 17th overall since 1974 to 13th. If Georgia had matched Florida’s 42 points in basketball during that period, it would have put the Bulldogs in the top ten.

To some extent, of course, these numbers are arbitrary. Georgia’s 2002 S.E.C. championship squad compiled a resume of achievement equal to or better than that of more than a couple of the national champions who have been crowned since Richard Nixon left office, but the Bulldogs received half as many points (5) for Mark Richt’s second season in Athens as the Gators received for Urban Meyer’s altogether comparable second season in Gainesville (10).

Even this crude calculation by Rivals.com, however, offers meaningful insights into the state of what otherwise is as strong an athletics program as any in the conference. The Georgia football program is on top of the world and happy about it. David Perno has the Diamond Dogs on sound ground.

It’s time for our men’s basketball program to step it up to the next level. No, Georgia basketball doesn’t enjoy Kentucky’s tradition, or even Arkansas’s, but there’s no reason why the Bulldogs can’t improve their stature in the sport in the same way Florida and Tennessee have in recent years. At a minimum, Mississippi State- or South Carolina-level success ought to be a given.

Georgia’s sensational run through the S.E.C. tournament last spring got us all excited, but the euphoria has worn off and it is time for us to expect more than a long weekend’s worth of excellence. An early lead over Xavier in the Big Dance was a nice baby step, but it is time to begin making real strides.

Rivals.com’s numbers may be somewhat skewed, but they do not lie at the bottom line. The Georgia men’s basketball program has been a liability and should be a strength. We have passed the point at which progress any longer ought to be an expectation; starting next season, it must be made a non-negotiable demand.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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