UCLA: #1 in NCAA Team Championships (How We Got Here)

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All Bruin fans know that UCLA is #1 in NCAA Team Championships and was the first to 100 NCAA Team Championships having reached that milestone with Women's Water Polo in 2007. The total has increased every year since and #107 was won by this year's Women's Golf Team. Ho-hum, another championship; it's a Bruin birthright to be #1 in total championships, right? However, despite winning #107 this year, the margin of our lead in championships actually slipped with Stanford winning two championships so far this year (the 2011 Fall championships have yet to be contested) for a total of 101. Meanwhile u$c is third with 93. At 50 wins Oklahoma State is a distant fourth.

Since UCLA was first to 100 one might think we've always been leading in total NCAA Team Championships.

Not so.

In 1950, Men's Tennis won UCLA's very first NCAA Team Championship (photo via uclabruins.com)

The Early Years

The chart to the right plots the cumulative number of NCAA Team Championships by year since 1925 for the current top three schools. Stanford won its first championship in 1925 and u$c got its first the following year. UCLA would not get on the board until 24 years later by winning the 1950 Men's Tennis Championship. By then u$c led with 16 followed by Stanford's 9 championships. (Note: In 1950 Oklahoma St. actually led with 18 wins, but this story confines itself to the current top three schools)

UCLA Men's Tennis would go on to win a total of eight championships during the 16 years from 1950 to 1965, halfway to its current total of 16. During that period, only Track & Field (1956) and Men's Basketball (1964, 1965) contributed to UCLA's total of 11 championships. That was enough to overtake Stanford's total of 10, but nowhere near u$c's total of 39 championships won by the end of 1965.

The next ten years saw Men's Basketball taking over most of the heavy lifting, adding eight more championships ('67, '68, '69, 70, '71, '72, '73, '75). These accounted for more than one-third of UCLA's 23 championships won during 1966-1975. The "other" 15 were: Track & Field ('66, '71, '72, '73), Water Polo ('69, '71, '72), Volleyball ('70, '71, '72, '74, '75), and Tennis ('70, '71, '75). Edit: in 1971, UCLA became the first school to win five championships (Track & Field, Water Polo, Volleyball, Tennis, Basketball) in a calendar year.

By Wooden's last championship in 1975 UCLA's total championships stood at 34 and its one-win lead over Stanford had ballooned to 21. The trogans were starting to cool down, but remained in the lead over UCLA by nearly the same margin, 22. At the end of 1975 the championship totals stood at u$c 56, UCLA 34 and Stanford 13.

Reversal of Fortune

By the end of the 70's, 15 years had passed  with no change in the championship standings. UCLA was solidly sandwiched in second place (39) behind u$c (62) and ahead of third place Stanford (17). However, all that would change during the following two decades.

The next chart, NCAA Championships By Decade, shows that u$c dominated in championships won (mostly due to Track & Field) during the 30's, 40's, 50's, and peaked during the 60's. From that point on u$c's totals for each decade fall off precipitously.

After garnering its first win in 1950, UCLA's number of wins each decade trended up dramatically before leveling off in the 80's and took a bit of a dip during the 90's. UCLA's wins exceeded u$c's decade total for the first time during the 70's and every decade since.

Stanford, having floundered during the 50's and 60's showed signs of life during the 70's, and exploded during the 80's and 90's matching UCLA's total of 23 during the 80's. Stanford's phenomenal 36 championships in the 90's more than doubled up on UCLA's win total of 17 for the same decade.

The significant progress by both UCLA and Stanford coupled with u$c's dramatic fall (from a high of 22 wins during the 60's to two consecutive decades of seven wins each in the 80's and 90's) meant the end to trogan dominance.

1996: UCLA Takes the Lead

Note: I can find no source stating what year UCLA first took the lead in NCAA team championships. My conclusion that UCLA took the lead in 1996 is based upon collecting and analyzing available data of individual sport championships for the top three schools. Oddly, in reporting the 2001 Women's Track & Field (Indoor) championship, UCLA's website states: "It is the school's 84th team title, ranking it first in total NCAA team championships."  The article doesn't state specifically that UCLA had taken over first place with that particular win, nor does it mention the significance of the statement itself. The data and my analysis indicate that by the end of 2001, u$c had 77 and Stanford 79, behind UCLA's final total of 86. Perhaps no contemporaneous reporting of UCLA taking the lead exists because it was uncertain at the time if, and for how long, UCLA would hold the lead. However, it is odd that since that time there has been no reporting on the historical context for the achievement.

At the end of 1995 u$c still had the overall lead with 73 championships. However, while the margin over second place UCLA had risen as high as 30 in 1970, it was all but gone as UCLA now trailed by only one win at 72. Stanford remained in third, 10 wins back at 62, but had made considerable gains since trailing UCLA by as many as 28 in 1985.

Two national championships won in 1996 moved UCLA to #1. Despite losing four starters from the 1995 championship team, legendary coach Al Scates won the 16th of his current record of 19 NCAA Men's Volleyball Championships (team photo left) and was named coach of the year. And fittingly, UCLA upset top-ranked and heavily favored u$c for the Men's Water Polo Championship (team photo right), keeping the trogans stuck at 73. With the two wins UCLA moved into the overall lead with 74.

UCLA finished off the 90's with five more championships, maintaining the overall lead at 79. On the strength of its best decade, Stanford tied u$c with 76.

Women's Program Impact

The NCAA began sponsoring women's sports beginning with the 1981-1982 academic year. Two championships won by the women's teams in 1982 enabled UCLA to become the first school to win five in a single year. The men won in swimming, tennis and volleyball. Edit: Two championships by the women plus the men's three in 1982 enabled UCLA to post five national championships in a calendar year for the second time, the first time being 1971. Note: an article at uclabruins.com states:

In 1981-82, the first year in which the NCAA hosted women's championships, UCLA became the first school in history to win five NCAA titles (men's swimming, men's tennis, men's volleyball, softball, and women's track) in a single year.

The discrepancy may be due to the use of academic year versus calendar year. This story uses calendar year.

Women's Track & Field (photo above, left) became UCLA's first Women's NCAA National Championship team in 1982 and won the title again in 1983. Jackie Joyner and Florence Griffith were members of both teams and won individual titles both years. Five of the women's eight championships of the 80's were won by Softball, beginning with the 1982 inaugural WCWS featuring 6'5" freshman pitcher and 4-time All-American Debbie Doom. The first championship for Andy Banachowski's Women's Volleyball did not come easy as they rallied from 2-11 to a 15-13 fifth-set victory over Stanford in 1984.

Six-strokes made up on the final two holes and a 25-foot birdie on the extra hole made for an exciting first championship for Women's Golf in '91Coach Valorie Kondos (not yet Field) took the top-rated Gymnastics team to their first championship in '97 with their own come-from-behind win. Softball ('90, '92, '99) and Volleyball ('90, '91) added to their previous wins as the women's program won a total of seven championships in the 90's.

Powered by seven Water Polo championships, including a streak of four (2005-2008), the women's program enjoyed their best decade. Repeat championship teams were joined by first-timers Indoor Track & Field ('00, '01) and Tennis ('08, photo right). The decade total of 18 championships won between 2000-2009 eclipsed the men's total for the first time.

At 36 total championships, UCLA women are second only to Stanford with 40.

First to 100 National Championships

The 90's had ended with UCLA in the lead with 79 wins. Stanford and u$c both trailed by three at 76 wins apiece.

The women's best decade 18 wins along with the men's seven resulted in UCLA's overall best decade (2000-2009) total of 25 championships to start the new millennium. Given the prominence of the women's program, it was fitting that the first-to-100 national championship was won by the 2007 edition of Women's Water Polo which was in the middle of a five consecutive championship winning streak. The Bruins survived Stanford's two-goal fourth quarter and held on to win 5-4 for the title.

"First to 100" was added to Bruins nomenclature next to "#1 in NCAA Championships" to highlight the success of UCLA athletics.

Reflection

UCLA has been #1 in NCAA Team Championships for only the last 16 years of the NCAA's 105-year history. It is a significant achievement and took a long time and thousands of student-athletes to get here. Let us never take for granted all these championship teams and all Bruin athletes who strive to keep UCLA the top program in the nation.

 

Sources
UCLA team photos, championship data and anecdotes: http://www.uclabruins.com/genrel/ucla-100-champs.html
Stanford national championships: http://champions.stanford.edu/history/stanfords-national-championships/
USC national championships: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USC_Trojans

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