The following ranking of the 65 athletic departments in the five major conferences – Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern – is an average of their annual standing in the Learfield Directors Cup over the past five school years (2012-13 through 2016-17). The Learfield standings are used by the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) as the official measuring stick for how universities perform overall athletically in a given year.
65. Washington State
Trajectory: Up. The Cougars almost cracked the top 100 for the first time in the five-year period, cresting at No. 101. Five years ago they were No. 192, which is unfathomable.
Trajectory: Down. The worst Power Five athletic department in 2016-17? Take a bow, Scarlet Knights, after checking in at No. 116. That’s 10 spots behind Sam Houston State.
Trajectory: Up. Kind of. When a big improvement entails going from 110th to 92nd, your broad-based athletic program is terrible. No wonder Pitt’s ACC inclusion was so poorly received by athletic directors.
62. Georgia Tech
Trajectory: Down. Bottomed out this year at 102, down 22 spots from 2015-16 and four spots behind Furman. Yikes.
61. Kansas State
Trajectory: Up. K-State was really bad from 2012-15, with an average ranking of 88th. Last two years it’s 68th. Still bad, but better.
60. Wake Forest
Trajectory: Up. The smallest school in the Power Five has correspondingly modest achievements, but the Demon Deacons moved up 13 spots to 58th this year.
59. Oregon State
Trajectory: Steady. As in steadily non-competitive.
58. Boston College
Trajectory: Down. Slid from 48th last year to 72nd this year, which is the customary neighborhood. Athletic department that was a plucky overachiever a decade ago is down on its luck and out of its league in the ACC.
Trajectory: Up. Utes were in the 70s in 2012-13 and ’13-14, have been in the 50s since. Still fighting uphill in the Pac-12.
Trajectory: Steady. No, they don’t care about anything but basketball. And it shows.
55. West Virginia
Trajectory: Up. Previously underwhelming Mountaineers cracked the top 60 for the first time in the five-year period, moving all the way up to 45th.
Trajectory: Up. The Hawkeyes improved from 60th to 51st, but still lag behind everyone in the Big Ten not named Rutgers.
Trajectory: Steady. The Hurricanes should be much, much better than they are, given their location.
Trajectory: Up. After years of low performance, the Rebels moved into the top 50 last year and the top 40 this year.
Trajectory: Down. Commodores are sliding, from 45th to 51st to 58th to 64th. Good thing the academic ranking remains strong.
Trajectory: Down. Horned Frogs jumped into the top 40 the two previous years, but backslid to 60th in 2016-17.
Trajectory: Steady. Winning a national title in football only gets you so far, especially when your school scores a big fat zero in winter sports. Finished 17 spots behind Denver University, which doesn’t even play football, this year.
48. Texas Tech
Trajectory: Down. Red Raiders dropped 18 spots to 65th this year, performing well in the spring sports after a lousy year in both fall and winter.
Trajectory: Steady. Boilermakers were a bust in 2014-15 (60th), but have been in the 40s every other season in the last five.
46. Iowa State
Trajectory: Down. After three years in the top 45, Cyclones have been 64th and 59th the last two.
45. Mississippi State
Trajectory: Steady. Bulldogs have been between 44 and 52 each of the past five seasons. Got a big 2016-17 boost from national runner-up women’s basketball team.
Trajectory: Up. Wildcats broke into the top 40 for the first time in the five-year period, aided in part by a first-ever contribution from men’s basketball.
Trajectory: Down. Terrapins average finish from 2012-15 was 36th; last two years it’s 55th. But the Big Ten revenue checks are big.
Trajectory: Up. Buffaloes are in the top 35 for the first time in the five-year period, thanks to distance runners and skiers – and a rare boost from football.
Trajectory: Down. Hoosiers haven’t cracked the top 40 since 2013-14, although they’re better off than the bottom-out of 2014-15 (61st).
Trajectory: Up. Despite ongoing travails in football and men’s basketball, Tigers had their highest finish ever (33rd). Non-revenue sports have never been better as a whole.
Trajectory: Down. Orange actually returned to their approximate mean (44th) after a one-year surge to 21st. Doesn’t help when you go from Final Four to NIT in men’s hoops.
Trajectory: Up. Slid to 54th last year, bounced back to 38th this year – without a lick of help from the revenue sports. Still: the five-year average is the same as Princeton’s. While that’s a compliment to the powerhouse of the Ivy League, it doesn’t speak well of the Illini.
37. Michigan State
Trajectory: Down. Spartans were in the top 35 from 2012-14, outside the top 50 past two years. That’s a major downturn.
Trajectory: Down. Volunteers were 46th this year, way too low for a program this invested in sports. Years of athletic department tumult may have come home to roost. BYU’s five-year average is better.
35. Virginia Tech
Trajectory: Steady. Between 35-40 every season, which is about mid-pack in the deep ACC.
34. South Carolina
Trajectory: Up. Nascent basketball power in both genders had been no higher than 31st in the five –year cycle before vaulting to No. 21 for 2016-17. Even Frank Martin might crack a smile over that.
Trajectory: Up. Bears plummeted to 56th place in 2015-16, then rebounded to a more customary 24th this year.
32. North Carolina State
Trajectory: Up. Wolfpack have cracked the top 30 in two of the last three years. Biggest 2016-17 contributors: both swim teams and women’s cross country.
Trajectory: Up. Tigers broke into the top 30 this year for the first time in the five-year cycle.
30. Arizona State
Trajectory: Down. Underachieving Sun Devils have slipped every year, from 18th in 2012-13 to 27th, then 30th, then 37th, now 43rd this year.
Trajectory: Down. Finished outside the top 40 this year. Wildcats have all the warm-weather advantages but not all the money to capitalize on it.
Trajectory: Up. Cardinals have improved or maintained their standing each of the past four years, thriving in the ACC.
Trajectory: Down. Two of the last three years have been outside the top 35.
Trajectory: Steady-ish. Crimson Tide has been as high as 17th(2013-14) and as low as 36th (2015-16). Do they care much about sports other than football?
Trajectory: Steady. Scored big spring points with a rowing national title and a strong softball season. Football renaissance helped, too.
Trajectory: Down. Gophers’ No. 30 ranking was their lowest of the last five years. Still predictably powerful in the winter sports.
23. Oklahoma State
Trajectory: Steady. After vaulting into the top 15 in 2015-16, Cowboys returned to the 20s this year. Consistently good at their niche sports.
Trajectory: Steady. Indoor and outdoor track helps keep the Razorbacks competitive, and in the top half of the SEC.
Trajectory: Up. Badgers jumped from 27th to 16th year-over-year. But there’s still a gap between the big three of Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten.
Trajectory: Down. Blue Devils have gone from 9th to 20th to 24th to 32nd last four years.
Trajectory: Steady. Highest finish in last five years is 15th, which is underachieving. Tigers are spending (and making) a lot of money on sports.
Trajectory: Up. Best finish in program history. School has become a women’s track-and-field powerhouse, among other off-radar contributions.
Trajectory: Steady. Sooners hit some high notes in 2016-17 with four national titles in softball, both gymnastics and men’s golf, but had a major men’s basketball backslide.
Trajectory: Steady. Three straight top-15 finishes, despite athletic budgetary issues.
Trajectory: Steady. Last four years have been 15, 15, 14, 16. But before that the Bulldogs were 10th.
14. Florida State
Trajectory: Steady. Last year wasn’t great (22nd), but all the finishes in the past five have been between 11 and 13.
13. Notre Dame
Trajectory: Down. Fighting Irish slipped out of the top 15 last year and out of the top 20 this year.
Trajectory: Up. Ducks’ ranking has improved three years in a row, topping out at No. 9 this year. Phil Knight’s money makes a difference.
Trajectory: Down. After three straight years in the top eight, Cavaliers were 19th this year. Still, a budgetary overachiever.
10. Texas A&M
Trajectory: Down. Slight dip after being in the top ten in 2012-13 and ’13-14; average last three years is 14th. That’s not great for a school flush with cash.
9. Ohio State
Trajectory: Up. Big-budget Buckeyes have been Learfield runner-up to Stanford the past two years; navigating past many broad-based powers from warm-weather locales.
8. Penn State
Trajectory: Steady. Four of the past five years in the top eight; admirably consistent; enjoyed major football success for the first time in years.
Trajectory: Up. The leaders of Cold Weather Nation have consecutive top-six finishes. Wolverines are competitive in almost everything.
Trajectory: Steady. Longhorns should probably be higher than this, given the resources and location. Huge transition period has largely reached an end, which may signal an upward move in years to come.
5. North Carolina
Trajectory: Steady. Major overachiever, given the budget. Tar Heels won it all in men’s basketball and were runners-up in women’s field hockey and men’s tennis.
Trajectory: Steady. Three straight top-five finishes, powered by huge success in spring sports. Trojans are predictably strong in virtually every sunshine-enhanced sport.
Trajectory: Down. Finished outside the top ten this year, which is uncharacteristic for America’s original broad-based athletic power.
Trajectory: Steady. In the top five each of the past five years, despite ebbs and flows in the revenue sports.
Trajectory: Steady. The Cardinal wins every year. This is the true and undisputed greatest dynasty in college sports.