Ever since athletic director Heather Lyke came to Pitt before the 2017-18 school year, she’s focused on a big-picture approach to revitalizing Pitt athletics.
While she’s made splashes with the hiring of Jeff Capel to run the basketball coach and an unprecedented contract extension given to football coach Pat Narduzzi — moves that the jury is mostly still out on — Lyke’s over-arching focus has been one of lifting all 19 of Pitt’s varsity programs.
She uses the catchphrase “comprehensive excellence” at every turn, and has put a lot of time and resources into finding new leadership for Pitt’s baseball, gymnastics, softball and women’s basketball, lacrosse and soccer programs, hiring experienced head coaches or high-level assistants and increasing staffing levels and recruiting budgets in order to give the Panthers the best possible results.
Lyke’s Victory Heights capital scheme, perhaps the largest and most ambitious project of her administration, would pour millions of dollars of investments into sports other than football and basketball for the first time in Pitt’s history.
But so far, the effort hasn’t come with matching results. The NACDA Learfield Cup is given annually to the college program with the best finish across 20 sports, and the ordered standings of that award are a good measure of the overall level of the success of an athletic department.
With the culmination of the College World Series last week, the final NACDA Learfield Cup standings were released, and Pitt finished No. 137 in the country. It’s a 26-position drop for Pitt from the No. 111 finish in Lyke’s first year, and the lowest finish for Pitt since at least 2004, before which reliable standings could not be ascertained.
Furthermore, Pitt finished a dead-last 15th amongst schools in the ACC, the third last-place finish for the Panthers since joining the conference. The other three seasons, they’ve done no better than 14th.
There have certainly been individual success for Lyke’s programs. The gymnastics team made the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18 and the volleyball team has made an unprecedented run of success. The wrestling team turned a 4-11 record in Keith Gavin’s first year into a 13-3 mark this past winter.
But there continue to be large problem areas for the Panthers. Men’s and women’s basketball and soccer, baseball and softball have yet to have any real success under new coaches while swimming and diving and track and field have had some individual progress without scoring team points.
Part of the problem is that the Panthers are starting with a handicap by only offering 19 sports, but that doesn’t seem likely to change, with women’s tennis cut following yet another below-.500 season. It will be replaced with women’s lacrosse for 2022, but Pitt going beyond 19 sports doesn’t seem to be in the cards for now.
If Lyke and Pitt want to increase their all-sports standing nationally and within the ACC, there will need to be individual improvement, and most of it will have to come from those coaches that Lyke has already hired.