Last May, when Tennessee baseball was on its historic tear, we started looking at how hard it is to win an SEC Championship. When a team was making it look as easy as that group was, you can forget that the Vols had just four league titles in the five lead sports (football, men’s & women’s basketball, baseball, softball) since expansion in 2012.
Make that five:
And, as we discovered in doing that research last year? When it can feel like things were down for Tennessee’s athletic department for so long, it’s gratifying to remember how those five league titles compare to the rest of the SEC. Because “just” five titles is actually good for fourth on this list:
SEC Regular Season Championships since 2012 Expansion
|Since 2012||Football||Men’s Bball||Women’s Bball||Baseball||Softball||Total|
The 2023 baseball crown is still up for grabs, with five teams within two games of the lead. But no matter who wins it, this will still be true:
Since the league added Missouri and Texas A&M in 2012-13, Tennessee is the only program to win an SEC title in four of these five sports.
Only Alabama, Florida, and LSU claim titles in three sports during that span.
And Tennessee’s lone blemish on this chart is football, which just enjoyed its best season in two decades.
Something we echo a lot on this site: there are always meaningful moments available, in any sport, in any season. I don’t know what you’d consider to be the “worst” period in Tennessee’s athletic history, but there was certainly a lack of consistent momentum in many of these sports not too very long ago. Among the breadwinners, football’s worst campaign was 2017, basketball struggled in the transition from Donnie Tyndall to Rick Barnes in 2015 and 2016, and Lady Vol basketball didn’t make the Sweet 16 from 2017-2021. Softball missed the super regionals in 2016. Tony Vitello was hired to begin the 2018 season.
Even in seasons like these, meaningful opportunities are always available. But just a few years later, every one of these sports is in the hunt.
That’s the linked component of that echo: the hunt is the real prize. It’s not winning national championships or bust, which makes for a terrible quality of life. It’s the belief that you can win one. That’s the promised land. And across the board, that’s where Tennessee’s programs now find themselves.
So while baseball may not be winning the league title in more dominant fashion than it’s ever been done like last year, are they in the hunt? Softball is ranked fourth in the nation as they open play in the SEC Tournament today. They’re in the hunt.
I don’t know if football will end up with 11 wins again this fall or not. But coming in, I believe they’ll be in the hunt. In 2024 projections and bracketologies, you’ll find Rick Barnes’ squad in the same hunt they’ve pursued now for the past six seasons. And Lady Vol basketball, now back in the tournament’s second weekend for consecutive years, is a three seed in ESPN’s 2024 bracketology.
I’m a big believer in today being the most important day and all that good stuff. I find it most meaningful to do life and faith that way. And that meaning is always available.
These days, that’s as easy to believe for Tennessee as it’s ever been. This is what it looks like to be the ol’ everything school. And it’s a great gift to turn on any of these programs in any season, and believe we can win.