Best in College Sports: Alabama rolls over competition to claim award for 2020-21 athletic season

Graphic by Mike Meredith

There is a first time for everything … even when it comes to CBS Sports’ annual Best in College Sports award. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced many spring sports to be canceled last season, CBS Sports is back to crown a new champion following a one-year hiatus.

And for the first time since the award’s inception, the winner is also the reigning College Football Playoff national champion.

Alabama has been named Best in College Sports for the 2020-21 season, amassing 583.75 points to top the field with one of the largest margins of victory in history. Oklahoma finished second with 473.75 points, while Iowa was third with 463.25 points. 

Consistency is the name of the game for Best in College Sports, and the Crimson Tide were exactly that — consistent — across the athletic department. Football won the national title after a 13-0 season, men’s basketball (26-7) reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, women’s basketball (17-10) reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, softball (52-9) reached the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series, gymnastics finished fifth in the nation, and baseball reached the NCAA Regionals. 

Two other programs, Michigan and UCLA, also had tremendous seasons across the board but received zero points in football. Michigan could have won the award with a top five finish in football and would have been named runner-up if it had simply made a bowl game.

The National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) has been ranking athletic programs for years by weighing every sport equally, making a national title in football or water polo worth the same number of points (100). CBS Sports in 2013 began presenting this award with a weighted formula that recognizes sports with more broad fan bases and media interest. We rate every FBS school in three sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball — along with two “wild cards” among the school’s most successful spectator sports: baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse, hockey and wrestling.

The weighted formula puts 2.5 times as much emphasis on football and 2.0 times as much on men’s basketball compared to women’s basketball and the “wild card” sports. Teams that do not finish in the final AP Top 25 in football but play in a bowl are awarded 62.5 points (25 x 2.5). Teams that make the men’s NIT are given 20 points (10 x 2), while WNIT teams receive 10 points. For all titles settled via bracket, such as the NCAA Tournament, point totals are based on number of participants. All champions in the other sports receive 100 points for a national title.

However, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on some events, we had to adjust the scoring for 2020-21. Teams that had bowl games canceled, such as UAB, still received 62.5 points in football. The same goes for schools that had winning records and opted out of bowl games, like Boise State and Boston College. In baseball, NC State’s season was cut short, but we gave them 83 points for a third-place finish.

Previous winners of CBS Sports’ Best in College Sports award from 2013-19: Louisville, Stanford, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan. The Buckeyes are the only two-time winner, while the Crimson Tide become the first SEC team to take the award.

2020-21 Best in College Sports rankings