RTI contributor Adam McCracken is the author of this article
The IMG College Director’s Cup released their final rankings for the 2018-19 academic year, and the University of Tennessee has landed in the top 25 for the 2018-2019 season. Tennessee received their best ranking since the 2010-2011 season when they finished 22nd. After finishing 46th and 35th the past two seasons respectively, Tennessee has shown vast improvement across the board, placing No. 25 among all qualifying universities.
Consistency and some excellent surprises have led to Tennessee’s steady rise into the top 25. Bringing in the most points for the university was the women’s soccer team. Finishing with a program best 16-3-3 record, the Lady Vols’ women’s soccer team received a two-seed in the NCAA tournament and made it to the quarterfinals, leading the university with 73 points. Both the men’s and women’s diving teams saw members take home a national title, propelling both teams to top-11 finishes as a squad while capturing 44 All-American honors. The men’s team received 65.3 points, and the women’s scored 70.5.
The men’s basketball team saw perhaps their best season in the program’s history, advancing to the Sweet 16 and spending an entire month ranked No. 1. With the SEC player of the year and first-team All-American Grant Williams, and the duo of All-SEC performers in Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone, Tennessee tied a program record for most wins in a single season with 31. Those efforts earned the men’s basketball team 64 points in the rankings.
The softball and men’s tennis teams each received 64 points as well, proving the importance of consistency. The softball team posted their 17th consecutive 40+ win season, and they advanced to the Super regionals of the Women’s College World Series. The men’s tennis team finished ranked 13th nationally and made it to the round of 16 of the postseason. Both programs have consistently provided the university with a heap of points.
Two programs that stood out were the baseball team and the women’s volleyball team. In just the second season for Tony Vitello as the baseball coach at Tennessee, the Vols baseball team reached 40 wins and received a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years. The program earned a whopping 50 points for their efforts.
As for the women’s volleyball team, new coach Eve Rackham led the Lady Vols to their first NCAA tournament in eight years, and they advanced past the first round as well. This was good enough for another 50 points.
One upsetting result came from the women’s basketball program. The Lady Vols did receive 25 points for receiving a tournament berth and for their long forgotten No. 9 ranking early in the season. But the season ended with only 19 wins, which was the worst since 1975, and a losing conference record for the first time in the program’s history. This ultimately led to Holly Warlick being replaced by former Lady Vol Kellie Harper as head coach.
If the Lady Vols — and the football team as well — could return to their consistent days, the university could soar up the Director’s Cup rankings.
One noticeable absence from the rankings was the football program. After finishing with a 5-7 record and no bowl berth, second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt will look to get the football program over the bowl hump, which would only increase the point total for the university. A bowl game this upcoming season has become a necessity, and it would help Tennessee not only in the Director’s Cup, but also in relevance in football.
Even with the absence of the football program and the disappointment of the women’s basketball program, Tennessee still showed massive improvement once again as an athletic department.
Tennessee is one of only four schools among top-50 finishers that has improved its Directors’ Cup placement by at least 20 spots over the last two years. The only other schools to do so are Texas Tech, Arizona State, and Duke). UT is also one of only two SEC schools to have posted a double-digit improvement during that span, with the other being Vanderbilt.
Not only that, but Tennessee joined Florida State and Louisville as one of only three Division I schools to earn NCAA Tournament berths in men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, and softball during the 2018-19 season.
If the football and women’s basketball programs can get back to their glory days of finishing in the top 25 in their sports year in and year out, the University of Tennessee could find themselves very high in the IMG Director’s Cup rankings in the future.