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UCLA: #1 in NCAA Team Championships (But For How Long?)


Gene Block's worrisome blasé and ill-informed assessment on the state of Bruin athletics is disheartening. The comment on UCLA's "astounding streak during which we have won at least one national championship in a team sport each year since 1995," is surprising. Is Block not aware that Stanford's own active streak of unbroken championship years extends back 35 years to 1977? "We're #2! We're #2!" Instead of "astounding," it's more like the streak is necessary, if UCLA is to maintain its #1 in NCAA Team Championships position. Funny that Block mentions the streak, but not being #1.

Statements such as, "I believe that 2011-12 will be a great year...," and "I am looking forward to watching all of our teams compete...," from Guerrero's message, give the impression of detachment as opposed to active direction and ownership of the results. We hope Dan will be doing more than simply watching. How about saying, "We're taking the following actions to improve upon the 2011-12 season..." The closing statement, "At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure our young men and women have enjoyable experiences at UCLA..." is weak and doesn't square with Dan's own stated mission of UCLA Athletics a few years back.

Our mission at UCLA is to provide our coaches and student-athletes with the resources necessary for success and to have a broad-based program that is nationally competitive in every sport.

Between Block's email and Guerrero's post, you'd think that UCLA was stomping all over the competition as opposed to the reality that, at best, we are simply hanging on. Block being astounded and the tenor of Guerrero's post seem to indicate a entitled mentality: "Of course we're #1 and no one can catch us."

Come On, We'll Always Be #1

While "First to 100" can never be taken away, "#1 in NCAA Team Championships" is an ongoing battle against two able opponents (no offense to all the other schools). I don't know if there was any conscious thought and effort in becoming #1 in team championships (aside from the individual efforts of each respective sport). However, now that we have the lead, I think it's useful to get some feel for the probability of maintaining the lead.

The chart to the right plots UCLA's championships win margin over Stanford and u$c since UCLA took the lead in 1996 (In a later post I will explain how I arrived at that year as I couldn't find any source reporting what year we took the lead).

Since that time UCLA's win margin versus u$c grew steadily from one to the current margin of 14 (107 to 93). UCLA's win margin versus Stanford took a precipitous drop to a 1998 low of two before settling in a range of six to eight wins; it is currently six (107 to 101).

How "safe" are these margins? The probability that UCLA could be overtaken in a single year is extremely low. Only once has any of the three schools posted six championships in a single year: Stanford-1997. u$c exceeded three wins once and that was four wins way back in '63. Therefore, the margins are reasonably comfortable from a year-to-year and historical perspective. 

Taking a closer look at the cumulative number of championships per year starting with 1996, the next chart (below left) shows that the three schools appear to be trending up in parallel. Unless Stanford somehow manages to repeat its two-year ('97-'98) win total of 11, UCLA appears to be safe. But the other chart (below right) displays the 10-year moving average number of annual wins for each team. The moving average for UCLA has been trending down since 2008, while Stanford is trending slightly up since the same year. Coincidentally, the two trend lines crossed this year and they are going the wrong way for us. u$c has been trending up since 2000, but remains somewhat distant.

This is pretty speculative analysis, but if accurate and the trends were to continue/accelerate, "#1 in NCAA Championships" might turn into a memory sooner than one might expect. But hey, let's keep this simple. How about just remembering, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

Gene & Dan, Ask yourself this question: "Do I Feel Lucky?" Well, do ya?

Neither one of you had anything to do with #1 in NCAA Team Championships; you kind of lucked your way into a good situation. I bet neither one of you knows when we took the lead. Can't find anything about it at the official website - never seems to be mentioned. Inattentive. Seems like you'd want to know how long you've had this #1 position. 16 consecutive years at #1. Now that sounds like an astounding streak.

Are you going to rely on luck to keep this streak going?

Where's the, "We did well this year, but we can, and will, do better" attitude? Or how about, "We're not happy with simply maintaining the status quo; we aim to increase our lead! UCLA will not relinquish being #1 in NCAA Team Championships. Not on my watch!"

Oh, and by the way, the website ought to add the word "Team" to the banner, "#1 in NCAA Championships." When you include individual championships, Stanford leads by a huge margin. Just like knowing how to put your socks on correctly, the little details make all the difference.

Data to generate the charts were culled from the followoing sources:
UCLA national championships:
Stanford national championships:
USC national championships: