My Twitter feed was hit by a bolt of lightning on Tuesday, as hundreds of tweets and retweets rolled in about a new leaked photo of Oregon’s Spring Game helmets. The snowy, digital camouflage lids looked sexy, I had to admit, and according to Trendmap, it garnered social media reaction in every state in the country.
Even after the photo was debunked and the tomfoolery died down, I was left wondering.
Has there been a better year to be an Oregon sports fan? I don’t think so.
The weight of the country’s attention to a potential helmet the Ducks would wear in a glorified scrimmage is proof the NCAA spotlight has never shone brighter on Eugene. But barely halfway into the school year, Oregon football hasn’t been the Ducks’ most successful sport. In fact, many could argue it’s not even the second-best program in the athletic department this year.
When Rob Mullens was hired as Oregon’s athletic director in July of 2010, he made his priorities clear.
“One of the things that attracts me to the University of Oregon is folks are not afraid to say ‘we want to win championships,’” Mullens said.
Since his hiring, Oregon’s football and volleyball programs have both appeared in national championship games. Its women’s track and field and cross country teams have won national titles. Acrobatics and tumbling has won two. Its softball program has qualified for the College World Series, and its baseball program came a handful of outs away from doing the same.
It’s safe to say the athletic department is well-rounded.
So, not only is 2012-13 the athletic department’s best ever, it’s one of the overall best in the country.
But what happens the rest of this winter and spring? Can Oregon keep up this unprecedented Year of the Duck?
With the exception of women’s basketball, which is turn-your-head bad this season due to injuries and lack of veterans, each program should make a meaningful run at its respective postseasons: Men’s basketball will — barring an apocalyptic collapse — earn a spot in the Big Dance; softball returned its core veterans and added an ESPN Top 100-laden recruiting class for a run back to the WCWS; acrobatics and tumbling will gun for a threepeat.
None of that even says anything about an undefeated men’s tennis team and last year’s No. 14 golf team.
And come spring, Eugene will be TrackTown USA again, as track and field enjoys its perennial shot to add to its 10 national championships.
Soon, the athletic department may not need to rely on its fleet feet and a 1939 basketball team for the totality of its titles.
Ultimately, the surge of talent across the board stems from football. In 2010, the year Oregon football played Auburn in the Natty, Oregon’s athletic department revenue more than doubled, from $59 million to $122 million.
The result? The athletic department’s budget was $76 million in 2011 — $28 million higher than it was in 2006. The majority of the uptick went to scholarships and swelling coaching contracts. Money begets winning.
If that wasn’t enough, the Ducks are above average in the classroom of late, as well. Only Stanford, UCLA and Washington have higher graduation rates among athletes, according to the NCAA.
If the University’s programs tank down the stretch, blame me for jinxing it. I’ll be more than happy to be the scapegoat for a March Madness letdown or another busted baseball season.
But I’m calling it right now — this year is, and will be, the best year in the history of Ducks athletics.