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Which Basketball Schools Are Pretending To Be Football Schools?

Deciding what’s a “football school” or a “basketball school” is an inexact science. Longstanding tradition — not wins and losses — often determines whether most fans’ hearts belong to the gridiron or the hardwood. Culturally, Florida State didn’t stop being a football school during its recent stretch of substandard performance, nor did Michigan adopt the persona of a basketball school even as its men’s team made multiple Final Fours in the 2010s (and its football faltered). And Kentucky, where men’s basketball coach John Calipari recently made headlines for speaking the obvious, is not a football school — despite an impressive resurgence for the Wildcats on Saturdays in recent years.

But at some point, on-field or on-court excellence supersedes culture, and that point is now. To find a definitive answer to what’s a football school and what’s a basketball school, we ranked the current 65 Power Five schools using a point system based on our Elo rankings in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball since 2001.1 Points for a given sport were assigned based on a team’s ranking in average Elo during a given year, with full weights attached to football and half-weights attached to each of men’s and women’s basketball.2 A “football school” got at least half of its total points from football, while a “basketball school” got at least half of its points from basketball. In total, that gives us 36 football schools — or schools that got at least half of their points from football — and 29 basketball schools. 

Is your school a football or basketball school?

Current Power Five schools by whether they’re a football or basketball school, according to a weighted point system derived from their average Elo ratings in each sport, 2001-2022

School Football points MBB points WBB Points Total points Type
Alabama 1151 355.0 168.5 1674.5 Football
Arizona 423 503.0 213.0 1139.0 Basketball
Arizona State 639 213.0 411.0 1263.0 Football
Arkansas 730 294.5 310.0 1334.5 Football
Auburn 1048 220.0 300.0 1568.0 Football
Baylor 513 397.0 630.5 1540.5 Basketball
Boston College 597 223.0 272.5 1092.5 Football
Cal 578 241.0 301.5 1120.5 Football
Clemson 975 342.5 104.0 1421.5 Football
Colorado 390 240.5 221.5 852.0 Basketball
Duke 234 645.5 582.0 1461.5 Basketball
Florida 1111 528.0 253.0 1892.0 Football
Florida State 896 399.5 442.5 1738.0 Football
Georgia 1185 218.5 470.5 1874.0 Football
Georgia Tech 637 258.5 354.0 1249.5 Football
Illinois 258 426.5 155.0 839.5 Basketball
Indiana 261 366.0 286.0 913.0 Basketball
Iowa 831 338.5 406.5 1576.0 Football
Iowa State 458 303.5 416.5 1178.0 Basketball
Kansas 238 647.5 173.5 1059.0 Basketball
Kansas State 682 319.5 367.5 1369.0 Basketball
Kentucky 558 568.5 414.5 1541.0 Basketball
Louisiana State 1226 309.0 474.0 2009.0 Football
Louisville 620 527.5 509.5 1657.0 Basketball
Maryland 460 447.0 529.0 1436.0 Basketball
Miami (Fl.) 836 318.5 325.0 1479.5 Football
Michigan 922 410.0 328.5 1660.5 Football
Michigan State 721 555.5 436.0 1712.5 Basketball
Minnesota 480 277.0 337.0 1094.0 Basketball
Mississippi 645 261.5 192.5 1099.0 Football
Mississippi State 630 303.0 378.0 1311.0 Basketball
Missouri 725 290.0 251.5 1266.5 Football
Nebraska 686 184.0 319.5 1189.5 Football
North Carolina 491 555.0 470.0 1516.0 Basketball
North Carolina State 536 338.0 384.5 1258.5 Basketball
Northwestern 500 167.0 178.5 845.5 Football
Notre Dame 862 435.0 559.0 1856.0 Basketball
Ohio State 1206 500.5 488.0 2194.5 Football
Oklahoma 1231 438.5 482.0 2151.5 Football
Oklahoma State 849 402.0 291.5 1542.5 Football
Oregon 1036 374.5 255.5 1666.0 Football
Oregon State 513 91.0 290.0 894.0 Football
Penn State 832 163.5 304.5 1300.0 Football
Pittsburgh 567 427.0 171.5 1165.5 Basketball
Purdue 406 420.0 409.5 1235.5 Basketball
Rutgers 315 150.0 424.0 889.0 Basketball
South Carolina 805 239.5 453.0 1497.5 Football
Stanford 733 298.0 627.0 1658.0 Basketball
Syracuse 293 489.5 338.5 1121.0 Basketball
TCU 797 134.5 284.5 1216.0 Football
Tennessee 795 392.0 615.5 1802.5 Basketball
Texas 981 497.5 502.0 1980.5 Basketball
Texas A&M 864 291.5 457.5 1613.0 Football
Texas Tech 667 305.5 291.5 1264.0 Football
UCLA 644 382.5 380.5 1407.0 Basketball
USC 1061 261.0 284.0 1606.0 Football
Utah 722 223.5 249.5 1195.0 Football
Vanderbilt 304 276.5 383.0 963.5 Basketball
Virginia 448 425.5 291.5 1165.0 Basketball
Virginia Tech 867 261.5 262.5 1391.0 Football
Wake Forest 446 258.5 142.0 846.5 Football
Washington 640 267.0 237.0 1144.0 Football
Washington State 530 155.5 117.0 802.5 Football
West Virginia 816 436.0 417.5 1669.5 Basketball
Wisconsin 944 532.5 145.5 1622.0 Football

Points were assigned based on average Elo ranking in a given year, with full weights attached to football and half-weights attached to each of men’s and women’s basketball. A school was determined to be a “football school” if at least half of its points came from football.

Includes years spent in non-Power Five conferences for current P5 programs.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

The top five point-getters on the gridiron probably come as no surprise: Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama are among the most decorated and recognized brands in college sports. In men’s basketball, the top five are the traditional mainstays (Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and North Carolina); similarly, on the women’s side, current and erstwhile powerhouses Baylor, Stanford, Tennessee, Duke and Notre Dame have racked up the most points.3

Some of these schools, though, fare well across the board. Ohio State, for example, claims the No. 1 overall spot by total points, thanks to not only its perennial national title contender in the Horseshoe but also consistent runs on the hardwood — including two Final Fours for its men’s team in 2007 and 2012. Notre Dame has been highly successful in both sports as well, making several playoff and New Year’s Six bowl appearances in football to go with its juggernaut squads in women’s basketball — which included the winners of an epic national championship in 2018 — and a fairly consistent tournament team on the men’s side. And it must be noted that, in maybe the most surprising finding of this whole exercise, the Irish are classified as a “basketball school” by our system — 53.6 percent of their total points came from the hardwood. (Sorry, Knute Rockne.)

Of course, not all schools take the same balanced approach. For a counter-example, you need look no further than Durham, North Carolina, where Duke’s football team has ranked dead-last in average football Elo four times and in the bottom 10 a total of 13 times since 2001. Meanwhile, the legendary Duke men’s basketball program has shouldered the load with a top-10 average Elo in all but one year, and the women’s program enjoyed its own unbroken stretch of top-10 rankings from 2002 to 2015. And though Alabama basketball has made a comeback in recent years — the men’s team contributed to a memorable sports equinox last fall, beating No. 3 Gonzaga as the football team won the SEC title game, while the women’s team made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly two decades in 2021 — football rightly has a reputation for bringing home the bacon in Tuscaloosa.

Here were the most imbalanced schools according to our method, based on who had the largest absolute difference in points between football and basketball:

Duke is the epitome of a basketball school

Biggest difference between basketball and football points, according to total points derived from yearly Elo rankings, 2001-2022

School basketball points Football points Abs. diff School type
Duke 1227.5 234.0 993.5 Basketball
Alabama 523.5 1151.0 627.5 Football
Kansas 821.0 238.0 583.0 Basketball
Syracuse 828.0 293.0 535.0 Basketball
North Carolina 1025.0 491.0 534.0 Basketball
Clemson 446.5 975.0 528.5 Football
Auburn 520.0 1048.0 528.0 Football
Maryland 976.0 460.0 516.0 Basketball
USC 545.0 1061.0 516.0 Football
Baylor 1027.5 513.0 514.5 Basketball

Source: Sports-Reference.com

These labels aren’t static, though. Think about Florida State: The Seminoles rebounded from their lean late Bobby Bowden years on the gridiron with national success in the early 2010s to reclaim football-school status. But a sneaky-good track record in men’s and women’s basketball since the mid-2010s has flipped FSU to a basketball school again. Michigan, which maintained its strong football-first status in the twilight years of the Lloyd Carr era, has seen a roughly even split between basketball and football over the past 14 years — and basketball still accounted for nearly half of its point share in 2021, when the football team finally started to deliver on its massive promise. And Miami, once a crown jewel of college football, has see-sawed back and forth from football to basketball since 2007. 

Though none of those programs would be thought of as “basketball schools” by their fans, the numbers indicate that their less-heralded hoops squads have performed at a higher level than their football teams in recent decades. In other words, traditional labels can change faster than we might think. So Calipari should probably watch his back: Even if Kentucky isn’t likely to become a football school by history and tradition anytime soon, its recent gridiron success could eventually lead to a shift in the balance of power in Lexington. 

Footnotes

  1. Specifically, we started with the 2001 season for college football, and the 2001-02 seasons for men’s and women’s basketball. All 65 teams are included in the entire sample, even if they weren’t members of a Power Five conference throughout.

  2. For example, a school that had the highest average Elo in college football in a given season earned 65 points, the team with the second-highest average Elo earned 64 points, and so on. Meanwhile, a school with the No. 1 average Elo in men’s basketball earned 32.5 points, and the same was true for schools with the No. 1 women’s basketball program in a given year.

  3. For all its hoops glory, UConn is not on this list because its football team is not a Power Five member — proving that a school’s “weak” sport needs to reach a certain level of quality to even warrant us asking the question of whether it is a football or basketball school.

Santul Nerkar is a copy editor at FiveThirtyEight.

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