There’s little doubt that Pitt’s most visible athletic programs had a poor showing in late 2017 and early 2018, as the football team led by Pat Narduzzi posted a 5-7 record for its worst finish in a decade and Kevin Stallings shepherded a decidedly green men’s basketball team to slaughter in the ACC, resulting in the first winless conference campaign in the program’s history.
Now, despite Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke taking extensive action to stem the tide of these recent problems, the time has come for judgment to be passed on the university and, more specifically, its underperforming football and basketball programs, as CBS Sports released its annual “Best in College Sports” ranking on Wednesday and placed Pitt 95th out of 124 schools.
Only one power-five school finished worse than Pitt (95th) in this metric, and it happens to be another ACC program, Georgia Tech (t-119) https://t.co/ouRvoZa8eu— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) July 11, 2018
Pitt’s most notable rivals fared significantly better over the last year, as Penn State came in 13th and West Virginia tied for 23rd, according to CBS Sports, which puts together the list as an alternative to the National Association of College Directors of Athletics ranking. The NACDA factors in all sports and weighs each equally, measuring total athletic department health.
Conversely, CBS Sports emphasizes football and basketball — both men’s and women’s — and allots schools two “wild cards,” which reflect the performance of their top non-revenue teams. A national championship in football is worth 250 points, while a title in men’s basketball is valued at 200 points. Women’s basketball and the two wild cards can net a maximum of 100 points.
Under normal circumstances, which for Pitt would entail a bowl appearance for the football team and an NCAA tournament berth for the men’s basketball team, the Panthers would have added 62.5 points for the bowl and an additional 50 for making an appearance in the tournament.
Paired with the 96.5 points two of the school’s non-revenue sports earned this year, that would have resulted in a 53rd-place finish, with Pitt wedged respectably between Iowa and Arkansas. Instead, the university is less enviably perched just behind Toledo and ahead of Air Force. Only Georgia Tech placed lower among ACC and Power Five universities, tying for the 119th spot.
Over the past three years, the school has experienced something of a downward spiral in this particular ranking, as it placed 48th in 2015 but dropped 22 spots to 70th in 2016. Last year, the Panthers held firm at 70th, but they fell another 25 points this time around after a rough outing.
Pitt has already gone to great lengths to address its recent athletic deficiencies, as Lyke fired Stallings in March despite a buyout believed to be valued at over $9 million. She then put an end to Suzie McConnell-Serio’s tenure as the women’s basketball coach after she posted her third consecutive losing season and parted ways with baseball coach Joe Jordano after 21 years.
In each of these cases, the coach had struggled to adapt to the intensely competitive ACC and was ultimately replaced by someone with extensive experience as an assistant in the conference. The common-sense approach has already yielded positive results for the men’s basketball team in the form of a solid 2018 recruiting class, and it could pay off just as well for Pitt’s other programs.
Of course, none of that was ever going to influence rankings like those issued by CBS Sports or the NACDA ahead of their releases this summer. But Lyke’s offseason moves have at least set the Panthers on the right path, as they seem poised to return to relevance.
The question now is how long it will take the athletic department to regain its footing and begin fielding competitive teams in high-visibility sports like football and basketball again.