A Day of Celebration

November 22, 2014 …. A date which should go down in Colorado lore as a day of celebration.

Yesterday was a day so unique that days like it have only occurred 26 times in the 138-year history of the school.

Instead, it will be remembered by members of the Buff Nation as yet another reminder of where CU fits into the pecking order of collegiate athletics.

And that’s a shame.

The Way It Should Be

Yesterday, the University of Colorado men’s cross country team won the NCAA national championship at a competition conducted in Terre Haute, Indiana.

It was the team’s seventh NCAA title (five men’s; two women’s), with the men’s back-to-back titles giving the University of Colorado 27 national championships overall (19 from the ski team, plus the 1990 football team).

And the performance from the men’s team was a thing of beauty.

CU entered the meet as the top team in the country and lived up to the hype as it did all year. The Buffs put together a score of 65, placing all five of its scorers in the top 40 (which meant that all five earned All-American honors), with three runners in the top ten. The team score is the lowest score since 2005 when Wisconsin won with 37 points. The team runner-up, Stanford, was well back with a tally of 98 points, with Portland in third with 175.

“This is probably our best team ever,” head coach Mark Wetmore said. “Again, I had the team that came here with Jorge [Torres] who won and the team that followed it and great other individuals who were followed by good teams but not winners. Certainly, this is the best third, fourth and fifth we’ve ever had and certainly I think it’s the best team score that we’ve ever had. So, they are real good and they belong in the pantheon.

“I’m really proud of those guys,” Wetmore went on to say. “It’s is hard to be the favorites, it’s so hard to have the attention. It’s so hard for nine or ten 21-year-old men to keep their egos in check and they really did it. They were talking each other up the whole time. I think any one of would have sacrificed his day to have a bad day if it would have meant six good days for his teammates. So, that’s the biggest feeling I have. Pride, not for me but pride for them.”

How dominating were the Buffs?

CU’s sixth runner, Jake Hurysz, finished 41st overall. Though his score didn’t count towards the Buffs’ total, Hurysz was just one place away from earning All-American honors (the top 40 are so recognized).

Colorado will be very strong again next season. The Buffs will lose Theroux and Hurysz, but will regain senior Morgan Pearson and sophomore Zach Perrin, who were both on the 2013 NCAA Championship team.

Translation: the men’s cross country team at the University of Colorado, which was the unanimous No. 1 pick in the polls all season long, will likely enter the 2015 season as the No. 1 team in the nation.

Oh, and did I mention that the men’s team has won the Pac-12 conference title all four years CU has been in the conference? And that the women’s team, which finished seventh in the nation in the NCAA meet Saturday, has won two of the four Pac-12 titles, including this year?

Indeed, when it comes to conference competition, the University of Colorado is a dynasty in the sport of cross country. The men’s team has won conference titles 16 of the last 19 seasons (finishing second the other three). The women’s team, for its part, has won 15 titles over the past 22 seasons.

So why are the “CU Cross Country” t-shirts and sweatshirts flying off the shelves at the CU Book Store?

Because that’s not the way it works in collegiate athletics.

The Way It Is

An alternative title for this week’s essay could have been, “Money Can Buy Happiness“.

The evidence is never so starkly evident as when Colorado plays Oregon in football. The Ducks have become one of the elite teams in college football, and are the standard bearers for the Pac-12 conference. In the 2010’s, no team in the nation has a better winning percentage, at 89.1% (57-7), and no team has a better success rate over top 25 opponents (25-4).

And the Ducks are winning going away. In their 57 victories over the past five seasons, Oregon has won by 14 or more points 50 times.

The 44-10 win over Colorado was Oregon’s 10th of the season, giving the Ducks double-digit victories for the seventh straight season. With a season finale against Oregon State, a Pac-12 title game, and one – and perhaps two – bowl games to be played, a fourth straight season with at least 11 victories seems all but assured.

But … it wasn’t always that way.

Oregon played football for over 100 years before registering ten-win season No. 1, and that was in 2000. The Ducks spent most of the 20th century toiling in anonymity. Oregon was a charter member of the Pacific Coast Conference, which later morphed into the Pac-8, Pac-10, and Pac-12. The Ducks represented the conference in the Rose Bowl in the first year of the PCC, in 1916, and then again in 1920. It would be another 38 years before the next conference title, in 1958, and then another 37 years before the next Rose Bowl, in 1994.

I could go on (Oregon had exactly one consensus All-American – Mel Renfro in 1962 – in its first 110 seasons of football), but you get the idea.

So, what changed? What shifted Oregon from perennial afterthought to perennial power?

Money, of course.

“Nike U” has about 100 million reasons why it is now a national player, leaving behind it not only schools like Colorado and Washington, which have decent football histories, but also programs like USC and UCLA, which have been historic powers.

The power of the dollar is never more evident than when the Buffs take on the Ducks in football. No one expected the Buffs to be able to compete for an entire sixty minutes yesterday. No one – except perhaps in the CU locker room – truly believed that the Buffs were capable of an upset.

In fact, it is worthy of note in the official CU post-game notes for the Oregon contest that the Buffs were given credit for being behind only 13-0 at the end of the first quarter. The other three times the schools have met in Pac-12 play, the first quarter scores have been 29-10, 28-0, and 29-0, so the “progress” of being behind only two touchdowns after 15 minutes of play was duly reported.

So, what will it take for Colorado to become competitive in the Pac-12?

The short answer would be: “money”. A nice $50 million donation from Celestial Seasonings, Coors, or the South Park guys would go a long way towards bringing the program back to a competitive level.

The long answer, however – short of a miraculous influx of donations – is: “time”.

Buff fans don’t want to hear that anymore, though. We are tired of waiting – I’m sure as hell tired of waiting – for the Buffs to be competitive again.

Yes, the Buffs have shown signs. If either one – or both – of the double-overtime losses had gone CU’s way, we wouldn’t be nearly as depressed after the blowout loss to Oregon. If the Buffs were sitting at four victories, with a pair of Pac-12 wins in hand, and a potentially winnable game against Utah at home to finish off the season still to be played, the talk would be about making bowl plans in 2015.

As it stands, though, Colorado remains winless in conference play, on the brink of finishing a season without a conference victory for the first time in 99 years. Heads are being hung low; sweatshirts remain in the closet.

Too bad the efforts of the CU men’s cross country team – the repeat national championship team! – doesn’t count for more than it does.

Yesterday, the University of Colorado won its 27th national championship.

In the Pac-12, only the California schools, programs which routinely compete in most if not all of the NCAA sanctioned sports, have more national titles than does Colorado (CU fields teams in only ten of the 23 NCAA championship sports). Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, Washington State, Washington and Utah … all have fewer national titles than does the University of Colorado, despite the Buffs’ handicap of not even participating in half of the sanctioned title sports.

November 22, 2014, as a result, should be remembered as a day of celebration by the Buff Nation.

Buff fans should hold their heads high today. The cross country team has done the school, and its fans, proud.

It’s a shame it doesn’t work that way …


3 Replies to “A Day of Celebration”

  1. Way to go cross country. But Football and Basketball teams took it in the shorts
    I made myself laugh when the first quarter ended, I said “alright we’re not behind by 28”. Ever the optimist.

    Now as we look forward to next football season I am going to say we need to win all of our out of conference games and at least 2 conference games say and show we are making progress.

  2. Nice essay on why to be proud Stuart.

    I think we need to remember that FB, and now BB, are the programs that infuse enough money into the University to HELP (not underwrite) the athletic department to field the other sports.

    We are on the way up in athletics, however, as soccer, VB, LAX, skiing, CC, T&F and golf are all doing well and representing the university with distinction.

    (Did I leave any out ?).

    Thanks, Stuart, for supporting other sports on a primarily FB and BB site.

  3. It doesn’t “work that way”…only if you personally let it work that way!

    I’m sitting here typing while wearing my CU XC t-shirt, knowing athat all those UO bucks idin’t buy them the nationa XC team chmpioship, even if it did buy the individual first place trophy and the ssilver medal position, but the Buffs won as a TEAM!

    So, as fans get with the TEAM, football included, instead being a bunch of “woe-is-us” Eeyores.

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