SI Vault
Phil Taylor
October 07, 2002
In SI's ranking of all 324 Division I athletic programs, Stanford and Texas battled for the top
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October 07, 2002

America's Best Sports Colleges

In SI's ranking of all 324 Division I athletic programs, Stanford and Texas battled for the top

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Undergrad enrollment



Varsity teams



Intramural sports



Club sports


$50 million

Athletic budget

$45 million


'01-02 Sears Cup all-sports rank



'01-02 SI major-sports rank

3rd, (tie)

56% (170th)

Athlete graduation rate

90% (3rd, tie)

11-2 (5th)

2001 football


22-12 (18th/Sweet 16)

'01-02 basketball

20-10 (Round of 32)

24-10 (13th/Sweet 16)

'01-02 women's basketball

32-3 (8th/Sweet 16

57-15 (1st)

'02 baseball

47-18 (4th)


NCAA team titles



NCAA individual titles


Quarterback Chris Simms
Forward Nicole Powell

The lighting protocol for the UT Tower, the 27-story administration building at the center of the Texas campus, is no more complicated than, say, molecular biology. The Tower glows orange at the top, with the rest of it bathed in white light, when the football team wins a regular-season game or a non-BCS bowl, unless the victim is rival Texas A&M, in which case the entire building is orange. Otherwise a completely orange tower means a Longhorns team has won a Big 12 title—or perhaps a national title, though in that case white number 1's are also displayed on the Tower's sides. Those are just some of the guidelines. An incoming Texas student could easily spend the fall semester trying to learn the rest.

At Stanford the system is simpler. "When you see someone from the tennis or water polo or baseball team, it's like, 'Oh, you guys just won the Pac-10 or the NCAAs again, didn't you? Congrats,' " says junior Teyo Johnson, a wide receiver on the Cardinal football team and a forward in basketball. "That's about it. People win a lot around here."

People win a lot at both universities, which is the main reason the top two spots in the SI rankings of the nation's best Division I athletic programs for the 2001-02 school year belong to Stanford and Texas. Or Texas and Stanford. Choosing between them is almost as hard as getting the Cardinal's wacky band to march in formation or walking across the Texas campus without being Hook 'em Horned. The overriding personalities of their programs may be different—Texas is earnest and passionate, Stanford more casual and irreverent—but their success is strikingly similar.

The logical way to settle the duel for No. 1 would be head-to-head athletic competition, and it is a measure of the two schools' wide-ranging excellence that there would be any number of suitable venues. It could happen on the baseball diamond, where Texas won the College World Series in June, eliminating Stanford to reach the championship game. It could happen on the tennis court, where the Cardinal women's team won the national championship and the Longhorns women reached the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. It could happen in a pool, where the Texas men's swimming and diving team won the national title, with Stanford's finishing second.

Or they could settle it on the football field or basketball court, because the two schools are just as formidable in the revenue-producing sports. The Long-horns finished last season 11-2 and ranked fifth in the nation in football, and Stanford's 9-3 record included a trip to the inaugural Seattle Bowl. In basketball the Cardinal was 20-10 and reached the second round of the NCAAs; Texas, meanwhile, finished 22-12 and advanced one round further, to the Sweet 16. The schools have an even richer tradition in women's hoops, which they upheld last season, with both Stanford (32-3) and Texas (22-11) reaching the Sweet 16.

Texas and Stanford are academic powerhouses. No school enrolled more National Merit Scholars than Texas this fall, and Stanford tied for fourth (behind Princeton, Harvard and Yale) in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of best universities. ( Texas was 47th.) With a lofty 90% graduation rate for its athletes, Stanford has the academic edge on nearly all other NCAA schools, including Texas (56%).

Stanford also has the edge in the annual competition for the Sears Directors' Cup, presented to the nation's best college athletic program as measured by a points system based on postseason performance in 20 of the 35 NCAA sports. There's more Sears hardware at Stanford than at a carpenters' convention. The Cardinal won the Cup for the eighth consecutive time in June, with 11 teams finishing in the top 5 nationally in their sport and 11 more placing in the top 10. Those include not only the women's tennis champs but also NCAA titlists in women's volleyball and men's and women's water polo. In second place? Texas, which earned its highest rating ever.

But if the Longhorns lose some ground to Stanford in the nonrevenue varsity sports, they more than make it up in their extensive intramural and club sports programs. Stanford offers 25 club and IM sports, both mainstream and obscure—if you're not interested in touch football, perhaps the cricket club is more your style—but few schools can match the Longhorns' program. More than 80% of Texas's 35,000 undergraduates participate in recreational athletics, which include 82 intramural and club sports ranging from basketball and softball to hiking and billiards.

When Texas students aren't playing, they're often filling the stands at sporting events on campus. Longhorns fans have been known to sell out volleyball matches and softball games and turn track meets into standing-room-only affairs. At spring and fall football workouts it's not unusual to see spectators scrutinizing players and making notes as if they were assistant coaches. Although Texas's bigger crowds are due in part to the school's having roughly five times as many undergraduates as Stanford, the Cardinal can't quite match the intensity of the Longhorns' overall devotion.

Stanford students prefer to turn quaint traditions on their ear; witness the Stanford band—which, considering how often it's been sanctioned after offensive routines, perhaps should be called the Stanford Banned—and the Cardinal's powder-puff mascot, the goofily dancing Tree, which would get its trunk butted by Bevo, Texas's two-ton longhorn mascot. While Texas football players sing The Eyes of Texas after every game, win or lose, the Stanford theme is All Right Now, an old rock and roll tune. At games, Texas students flash the Hook 'em Horns signal with their index finger and pinkie while Stanford students often go the smart-aleck route, with chants like, "We will, we will, employ you!"

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