If you want a feel-good sports story for the school year - at least the past few months - you would be hard-pressed to find a better one than Baylor.
In football, the Bears won their last six games, finishing with a wild 67-56 victory over Washington in the Alamo Bowl. That capped a season in which quarterback Robert Griffin III won the first Heisman Trophy in school history.
Add that to the undefeated and top-ranked women’s basketball team (13-0) and the unbeaten and fourth-ranked men’s basketball team (14-0), and you have 33 straight wins in the three major revenue-producing sports.
“It’s been an amazing few weeks,’’ said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw. “We were talking about it, and I can’t recall any school having a streak like that in those three sports.’’
McCaw came to Baylor in 2003 from the University of Massachusetts (and before that Northeastern), running into the middle of one of the worst scandals in college sports history. A former member of the men’s basketball team was convicted of murdering a teammate, and coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up certain circumstances surrounding the case.
Bliss, though not criminally charged, was also found to have committed serious NCAA violations and was slapped with a 10-year show-cause order, severely hindering his chances of ever being hired again in a coaching capacity.
Other penalties came down on the men’s program, resulting in the cancellation of all nonconference games for one season and a severe limit on scholarships.
“Challenging days, without question,’’ said McCaw. “Needless to say, morale was at a very low point.’’
But from those ashes, the Bears have re-emerged.
“Great school, great coaches, good people,’’ said McCaw.
Former Louisiana Tech star Kim Mulkey runs the women’s basketball program, which has been to the Elite Eight and Final Four the last two seasons and is now No. 1 in the country. Art Briles is in control of a football program that has been a solid factor in the Big 12 race the last few years and now has a Heisman Trophy winner.
And Scott Drew is now running the men’s basketball program. His pedigree is unquestioned. He is the son of former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew and the brother of former Valpo star and NBA player Bryce Drew, whose buzzer-beating shot against Mississippi in the 1998 NCAA Tournament still comes up on highlight films.
“We worked hard to regain control of our fan base,’’ said McCaw. “And we have worked hard to build everything back to the level we wanted. We’ve raised over $100 million in the last five years. It’s been a special run.’’
Also helping turn Baylor into the Hub of the Big 12 is proactive school president Ken Starr, whose earlier claim to fame was his investigations of the Whitewater land deal and the Monica Lewinsky scandal during President Clinton’s terms in the White House.
The way the men’s and women’s basketball teams are playing, it looks like there is much more to come.
Harvard’s loss to Fordham, while surprising, was not startling. The Rams had shocked some people with a win over ACC entry Georgia Tech in their previous game and were playing at home, backed by a lively crowd. Harvard was coming off an emotional come-from-behind wins against Boston College and Saint Joseph’s and was probably feeling a little invincible. While the loss will cost the Crimson their top 25 ranking, it means nothing in terms of the overall goal, which is to get the NCAA Tournament spot given to the Ivy League champion. The Crimson might even lose a game or two in the league - at Yale, Penn, Princeton? - but they are clearly the best Ivy team and are capable of making a run in March.
We have already seen some surprises in the early stages of conference play. Wisconsin has lost twice in the Big Ten; the overtime loss to Michigan State Tuesday night was not a stunner, but losing to Iowa at home last weekend raised some eyebrows. Still, it is foolish to underestimate any team coached by Fran McCaffery, who will eventually turn the Hawkeyes into contenders . . . Who can figure out what is going on with Xavier, which has tumbled since the brawl with crosstown rival Cincinnati? Chances are, the Musketeers will eventually get their game faces back on and be a force in the Atlantic 10. Look for guards Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway to reassert themselves . . . Negative stat of the week: In a blowout loss to Louisville Tuesday, St. John’s missed 25 of 26 shots during one stretch of the game.
Teams to watch out for down the line: Seton Hall, which knocked off Connecticut Tuesday night (the last of the three-game NCAA suspension served by Huskies coach Jim Calhoun), and Missouri, which ripped Oklahoma, 87-49. Missouri (14-0) may even have Final Four credentials if it keeps up the intensity. “I don’t know that we can play any better,’’ said coach Frank Haith. “We played as flawless a game as you can play.’’ It was the Sooners’ worst loss ever in the Big 12 . . . What a great Wednesday night for the City of Brotherly Love. Every Philadelphia team that played - Temple, Saint Joseph’s, Drexel, Penn, and La Salle - won. Temple and La Salle pulled off upsets of Duke and Xavier, and Saint Joseph’s won a tough road game at Duquesne.