RTI contributor Adam McCracken contributed to this article
NCAA.com recently dug into the vaults to take a look at which Division I schools have performed the best in men’s basketball and football throughout the history of the two sports. The list was based solely upon overall win percentage in each of the two sports, and only those schools with 25 years of Division I competition were taken into consideration.
When all the calculations were said and done, Tennessee finished inside the top 10 for combined success of the two programs.
Tennessee came in with the ninth-best combined winning percentage, tying with both Syracuse and Arkansas. The football team has compiled a .675 winning percentage (838-390-53) over the course of 128 years, which is good enough for the 12th-best winning percentage in NCAA football history. The basketball team has a .609 winning percentage (1625-1045-2) all-time, which is good for 42nd on the all-time winning percentage list. The only SEC team to finish ahead of Tennessee and Arkansas was Alabama (tied for 4th).
The ranking of the football program at Tennessee is not surprising at all. With 52 bowls, 13 conference championships, and six claimed national championships, Tennessee’s football program has found much success in the program’s history. From 1989-2004, Tennessee won eight games in each season under Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer. In 128 years of the program, Tennessee has only suffered 17 losing seasons.
Unfortunately, eight of those 17 losing seasons have occurred within the last 15 years.
In fact, it’s pretty telling of Tennessee’s strong overall history in football that the Vols are still right outside the top 10 in all-time winning percentage despite how bad recent history has been.
The Vols have had just four winning seasons in the last 11 years in football, going 67-70 overall in the last 11 seasons. Tennessee suffered their worst season in program history two years ago with a 4-8 overall record and an 0-8 mark in SEC play.
Still, despite the recent downturn, Tennessee’s football program is still historically one of the tops in all of college football.
As far as the basketball program goes, the success has been in spurts, but rarely has the program taken a huge dip for a prolonged period. Since the Ray Mears era began in 1962, every coach who was at Tennessee for more than one season left with a winning record except for Wade Houston and Kevin O’Neill. Since the O’Neill era ended in 1997, Tennessee basketball has suffered only three losing seasons, one under Rick Barnes in 2015-2016 and two by Buzz Peterson in 2001-2002 and 2004-2005. They have appeared in 22 NCAA tournaments since 1967, with 13 of the 22 coming within the last 20 years.
While the football program has slipped to historic lows over the last 11 years, Tennessee’s men’s basketball program has achieved new heights in that same span.
Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has made it to the NCAA Tournament six times in that 11 year span from 2008-19, and they made it to the program’s first-ever Elite Eight in 2010 and have appeared in three other Sweet Sixteens in that span as well (2008, 2014, 2019). In fact, Tennessee’s men’s team has even reached the No. 1 ranking in college basketball twice over the last 11 years, doing so briefly in 2008 and again this past season.
Though the football program has only gone 67-70 overall (.489 winning percentage) over the last 11 years, the men’s basketball program has achieved a 266-149 overall record (.641 winning percentage).
The football program has dropped their overall winning percentage over the last decade-plus while the men’s basketball program has raised theirs. Still, the two combined give the Vols plenty of historical bragging rights.
Though the football program has fallen over the last decade or so and the basketball program has seen some bouts of mediocrity, both have remained at least competitive for the majority of their histories. Each program has seen some successful postseason runs, with football receiving more overall success, obviously. If head basketball coach Rick Barnes can continue the recent success of the basketball program and head football coach Jeremy Pruitt can continue to build his image of a competitive SEC football program, these rankings could be a lot different in the next decade.