News & ToursJanuary 25, 2008

What if ... we'd always had an Elite 8?

All this talk about changing the format of the men's NCAA Championship in 2008-09 to a 54-hole stroke-play event with the top eight teams advancing into some sort of bracketed head-to-head tournament to determine the eventual champion got me thinking ...

What if we had been doing this all along?

How many "Elite 8s" would schools have gone to? Part of the idea of moving to this new format is to create another way to distinguish the accomplishments of more college teams in a given year. How many Elite 8 banners can we hang in the practice facility? How about Final 4s?

With that, I've gone through the results of the last 20 NCAA Championships, stopping after 54 holes and figuring out what schools would have advanced to the head-to-head competition had the future format been used in the past. Because I don't have a way to retroactively break ties for the eighth spot, I gave all schools the benefit of the doubt.

Thus, here is a list of the top 10 programs (including the years they achieved the feat), followed by all others. All told, 45 different programs would have advanced to the Elite 8.

1. Oklahoma State, 14 (1988-92, 1994-2000, 2003, 2006)

2. Arizona State, 12 (1989-98, 2005-06)

Georgia Tech, 12 (1988, 1991-94, 1998, 2000-02, 2004-05, 2007)

4. Florida, 10 (1988, 1990, 1992-94, 2001, 2003-04, 2006-07)

5. Clemson, 9 (1989-90, 1993, 1997-99, 2001, 2003, 2006)

6. Arizona, 8 (1989-90, 1992, 1995-96, 2000-01, 2004)

Texas, 8 (1989, 1991-95, 2000, 2002)

8. UNLV, 7 (1992, 1996, 1998-2000, 2003, 2005)

9. Georgia, 6 (1988-89, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2007)

North Carolina, 6 (1991, 1993-94, 1997, 1999, 2000)

Southern California, 6 (1988, 1991, 1995-96, 2003, 2005)

UCLA, 6 (1988-89, 1998, 2003-04, 2007)

5: Stanford, Washington, Wake Forest

4: Arkansas, Minnesota

3: BYU, Houston, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Pepperdine

2: Augusta State, California, East Tennessee State, Florida State, Kentucky, Northwestern,

South Carolina

1: Alabama, Auburn, Central Florida, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Duke, Kent State, Lamar,

LSU, N.C. State, San Jose State, TCU, Toledo, Tulsa, UTEP, Virginia Tech

At the same time, I also looked at the effect of ending the individual tournament after 54 holes would have had in the last 20 years regarding who would have been crowned the NCAA medalist. Interestingly, 12 of the 20 times the eventual champion was also in the lead or shared the lead after 54 holes. In the other years, here's how things shook out:

YEAR        54-hole leader(s)                       Eventual Champ            Strokes overcame

1988        Bill McDonald, Ga. Tech          E.J. Pfister, Okla. St.                   2

1990        Andy Purnell, Fla. St.              Phil Mickelson, ASU                  1

Roger Winchester, Fla. St.

1991        Franklin Langham, Georgia    Warren Schutte, UNLV                4

1997        Keith Nolan, ETSU                      Charles Warren, Clemson          7

2002        Graeme McDowell, UAB          Troy Matteson, Ga. Tech           4

2003        Lee Williams, Auburn              Alejandro Canizares, ASU          6

2005        Michael Putnam, Pepperdine  James Lepp, Washington           6

2007        Rob Grube, Stanford                 Jamie Lovemark, USC                  3

Kyle Stanley, Clemson

Cameron Tringale, Ga. Tech

Quick comment:

More often than not the 72-hole winner was also leading after 54 holes, but when somebody has come back from the pack, they've often come from way back. Six of the eight times the eventual champion was three or more shots behind with 18 holes to play.

More from The Loop