With the absence of March Madness and sports at large, there’s precious little news for folks to talk about right now. On the flip side, there’s plenty of time for arguing about GOATs, ranking anything and everything, and working through various thought experiments.
Here’s one that’s picked up some traction among Gamecock fans since the cancelation of the NCAA women’s tournament: Claim the national championship. I mean, why not? There’s a pretty solid case for it, if you ask GABA, and here’s why.
A simple glance at college football history tells us how national champions were crowned in a sport that went decades without anything resembling a playoff or tournament. Quite simply: polls. South Carolina finished No. 1 in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, and that’s really all that needs to be said on this point.
This ties into the Gamecocks’ ranking, of course, but South Carolina has the best record in the country after going 32-1 overall and compiling a sterling 16-0 mark in conference play. It’s also the only Power Five program with just one loss (curse you, Indiana), owns the top-ranked RPI, and has the third-best strength of schedule. Yes, that singular early-season loss is an unfortunate blemish, but if you’re going to nitpick the Gamecocks for that, then nobody has a claim to the title.
The quality of the conference
SEC women’s basketball has long been a standard-bearer in the sport, given the historical dominance of Tennessee’s Lady Vols, but the conference has recently fielded more than just one really good program. In the final polls, the SEC boasts five ranked squads, bested only by the Pac-12’s six. In the absence of a tournament, it’s hard to say which conference is better, but the point remains that the SEC is clearly not a league full of tomato cans for the Gamecocks to pad their record with. (Well, they DO beat up on those teams, but that’s just a testament to USC.)
The head-to-head results against other elite teams
Say what you will about the Gamecocks: Even if you’re a hater, you have to admit they aren’t scared of anybody, and routinely schedule their peers for out-of-conference matchups instead of sleepwalking through a cushy early-season warmup. This season, the Gamecocks played and beat every other team in the final Top 5 apart from Oregon, claiming victories against No. 3 Baylor, No. 4 Maryland, and No. 5 UConn. Don’t try to find a better resume, because you can’t.
Okay, but would the administration even be interested in doing this?
It’s not an ironclad yes, but it’s not an ironclad no. Athletic director Ray Tanner was asked about the possibility during a press conference last week and had this to say about it:
“I think it’s too early to have those conversations. Not to avoid the question, but our focus has certainly been on the COVID-19 the last few days. ... I will add we were on quite a run and, if I’m not mistaken, we were 32-1 and ranked No. 1 in both polls. We won the regular season title and the tournament championship. In my mind, we’re No. 1.”
Doesn’t sound like Tanner’s commissioning any banners just yet, but he didn’t laugh off the possibility, either. As he rightfully pointed out, there are some other things going on right now, so we’ll have to wait and see once it’s more appropriate to talk basketball again.
Has anyone done something like this before?
Aside from zillions of college football teams claiming ancient titles because some sportswriter in the middle of nowhere had his own poll in 1920 and hey, sure, that counts: Yes! The most famous and recent example is UCF football, which claimed the 2017 title after going undefeated and getting snubbed by the playoff committee. This move earned them some ridicule and scorn, but others thought it was fun and enjoyed the Knights’ commitment to the bit. In comparison to UCF, I’d say South Carolina has a stronger argument, and I think most observers would be inclined to nod, accept it, and keep it moving.
In conclusion: Hang the banner.