After an unprecedented run of success
last decade, the Longhorns have now fallen well past the mean. But
there is no single action that led to Texas’ downfall. Instead a
collection of problems has caused the program to be defined by the
challenges it is attempting to overcome.
On Friday January 25th,
Texas Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving – both ranked No. 7 in
their respective Coaches polls – traveled to TCU’s University
Natatorium for a dual meet against the Horned Frogs. The men won
133-88, taking 11 of the 12 events in Fort Worth. The women’s fared
even better, winning 147-74 and sweeping all 12 events.
What’s significant about the successful
night in Fort Worth is it marked the first Big 12 victory for Texas
in 69 days in any sport. The last was Vollyball’s 3-0 win over West
Virginia back on Nov. 17. Following that win, Football lost on Nov.
22 (TCU) and Dec. 1 (Kansas State) and Men’s and Women’s Basketball
proceeded to lose their first ten games of the season, collectively.
Given the large number of conference
events that Texas teams participate in, occasional statistical
deviations are to be expected. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds
has said as much, recently telling CBS Sports “these things are
cyclical. They are everywhere. I can look at kids coming to campus,
the coaching staff, facilities, all those things – we’re fine. We
need to play games and win games.”
There are challenges that need to be
overcome and if those challenges were few then allowing the “cycle”
to run its course would be sufficient. But the challenges are not
Within a short span of time we’ve seen – in football alone – the loss of Bryan Harsin, the Regents calling an emergency meeting to
address the conduct of the man who was promoted into Harsin’s place, arrests and a recruiting class with
zero five stars, only six of the top 20 players in the state and zero
Individually these are challenges to be
overcome. And they can be overcome. For example, though the 15-man
recruiting class is not as highly regarded as those in years past,
Texas also had a not-so-highly-regarded 15-man recruiting class in
2005 that – thanks to actual player development – turned out just
fine. But when the problems become too numerous, they cease to be
“challenges to overcome” and instead become the program itself.
Have you ever heard of the ship of
It’s a paradox written by Plutarch in
the first century CE. It asks if an object that has had all its
component parts replaced is fundamentally a different object. And, if
so, at what point did it cease to be the original object? If all the planks the make up a ship are replaced over time, is it still the
same ship? What if you took all of the old planks and built a new
ship? Why is that not the original ship, even though it’s made of all
the original pieces? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Mostly it’s just an argument of
semantics. We apply the word “ship” to a collection of wood and
treat it as a singular object. In reality, all objects are just
collections of consituent objects we give titles to, at least down to the quark
level. Even our bodies are the ship of Theseus. Within seven years, our
body has replaced most of its cells. (Most. There are a few
exceptions. Neurons in the cerebral cortex cannot be replaced. Dead
brain cells are gone for good. Don’t huff paint, kids.)
The point is that the pattern is
more important than the parts.
The loses are composite parts of the
program. When they become as numerous as we’ve seen in recent years,
they become what Texas is. Now winning is the statistical anomaly.
Volleyball and men’s golf are the islands of success in a sea of
mediocrity. This is made more apparent by just how far Texas has
Do you remember 2005? Of course you
remember 2005. Vince, Rose Bowl, National Championship, all that
But it wasn’t just a banner year for
football. Seven of the nine men’s athletic teams won their
conference championship. The other two, cross country and golf,
placed second. No other Big 12 member institution claimed more than
one league title during the 2005-06 academic year and Texas had
seven. It gave the Horns a total of 30 Big 12 titles in men’s
athletics in the short history of the conference. The next closest
was Nebraska – a team that has since left the Big 12 – with 17.
That is not something that occurs as
the result of a cycle. It is also does not occur as a result of a
single action, a single hire or a single win. It was a collection of actions that created the complete and utter dominance of Texas in the Big 12
conference. And it is collection of actions that has resulted in the