The Oklahoma Sooners are having themselves a year. Final four in college football’s January playoffs. Final Four in college basketball right now, and a chance still to cut down the nets in Houston.
Double-duty athletic programs like this are so rare that they deserve special recognition. I see two more at the moment, using my arbitrary measurement of Sweet 16 in the NCAA hoops tournament and a corresponding finish of top 16 or better in the final Associated Press rankings from earlier this year.
North Carolina is in the Final Four this weekend and the Tar Heels football team finished at No. 15 with a perfect conference record to win the ACC Coastal Division. Also, Notre Dame pairs an Elite Eight basketball team with a No. 11 football team from last season.
The combinations change from season to season, of course. Oklahoma basketball was going through a rough patch until Lon Kruger showed up five years ago. Michigan State, a No. 2 seed, got upset in the opening round of the NCAA tournament or the Spartans would retain their customary spot on the short list of two-sport giants, too.
My feeling is that Miami should aim at this double bullseye of overall excellence, and with a realistic chance at hitting it at some point.
The Hurricanes’ basketball team has progressed to the point with coach Jim Larranaga that going no farther than the Sweet 16 seems a disappointment. That’s how elite programs view March Madness, and Miami is as close to that status as it has ever been.
The football side is a tougher reach, but new coach Mark Richt is capable of getting the Hurricanes back in the rankings over the next few years and eventually back in the top 10. He wouldn’t have come to Miami if he didn’t think it possible.
Start the process by reeling in North Carolina within the ACC. The Tar Heels beat Miami 59-21 last November in football. Not even close. In basketball North Carolina beat the Hurricanes 96-71 in February. Same thing.
The gap shouldn’t be that wide, and does not need to stay that way. Miami is supposed to be a football school, for one thing. And North Carolina, a good bet to win its sixth basketball national championship, finished just one game ahead of Miami in the ACC regular-season standings this year.
It’s a fantasy to think that anyone will ever build the multiple monstrosity of national championship teams in both sports at the same time, like Florida did in 2006.
Miami can make itself matter in all kinds of new ways, however, with Larranaga and Richt on the job.
It doesn’t have to be about living in the past with memories of Miami’s football dynasty. Look to a double-fisted future instead, one that shines up the brand throughout the entire calendar year.