Back in August, every college team in every sport ostensibly began the 2010-11 school year with the goal of winning a national championship.
In some cases, the goal was realistic. In others, merely theoretical.
Now, we’re down to our last week, our last sport and our last two teams standing. Either Florida or South Carolina will win the NCAA baseball title this week in Omaha.
It will be, by my count, the 37th championship awarded (at the Division I level) this academic year (36 by the NCAA, one by the BCS). Tennessee, you probably noticed, didn’t win any of them.
That’s not intended as a blanket indictment. Texas didn’t win any, either. Nor did LSU, Michigan or Florida State, to name a few big-budget operators.
Still, you try.
It’s worth looking at a broad perspective because the athletic department sits at a crossroad.
In a matter of weeks, a new athletic director will be on board. Furthermore, he (presumably a he) will for the first time direct a combined men’s and women’s department.
What exactly is he (presumably a he) inheriting? In what shape is UT’s ship?
Frankly, it’s been in better shape.
Men’s football and basketball face NCAA penalties. Between the white lines, they face considerable competitive obstacles.
Baseball is rebuilding from the dugout up. Men’s track has dropped a baton.
On the other hand, a number of sports are solid. A few are even national contenders. Men’s tennis was the NCAA runner-up in 2010. That’s as close as the Vols got to a national title on outgoing AD Mike Hamilton’s eight-year watch.
Softball will be a marquee program as long as Ralph and Karen Weekly are around. Women’s basketball remains an icon.
For every UT team, the primary goal should be an SEC title. If you can rise to the top in this league you are in the conversation for a national championship.
The SEC has claimed five national titles this year and will inevitably add a sixth this week.
If the Gators prevail, it will be their third, to go with men’s indoor track and women’s tennis.
Auburn took its turn in the SEC national football championship rotation. Alabama won women’s gymnastics.
Kentucky is the NCAA rifle champion. No word on how many one-and-dones were on the roster.
You may have missed this, but Vanderbilt’s hoped-for return to the bowling throne was thwarted by Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Elsewhere, Ohio State won it all in men’s volleyball. A tattoo scandal is presumed to follow.
Some champions are hardly a surprise — Southern Cal in water polo or Colorado’s 17th title in skiing. Stanford in any non-revenue sport.
Others make you wonder. Akron in men’s soccer? Texas A&M in women’s basketball?
Let’s hear it for the little guys. Minnesota-Duluth in ice hockey. Augusta State — repeating, no less — in men’s golf.
And let’s hear it for the SEC one last time this week in Omaha. Choose your flavor: Gators or Gamecocks?
Tennessee fans, meanwhile, can only wonder where the next title might come from.
First, though, they have to find out who the new boss is.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.