The 10 Most Tortured College Sports Campuses

Everyone has a different idea about what makes a sports city tortured. Do their teams need to reach the championship and fall just short every year? Or is it a more torturous experience to start every year without those new season title hopes and dreams?

52 years came and went without a team in Cleveland bringing home a championship. Much was made about the Cavaliers finally winning a title behind LeBron James’s virtuoso performance as June wound down. The prodigal son had returned and taken the team where no one had in generations. Finally, the curse was lifted. Cleveland exorcised its spirits. The Land would come off the lists of most tortured sports cities.

ESPN published a Sports Misery Index not long after Cleveland’s big win. Now that Cleveland was off the list, which town is currently battling the most demons? The current, uh, champion? San Diego.

It’s hard to argue with author Bill Barnwell’s logic, but it’s also hard to lament the struggles of a town greeted with sunshine and seventy-degree weather every day. The runner up is Buffalo. We can get on board with Buffalo.

The world’s chicken wing capital not only watched its pro football team lose out on countless Super Bowls before embarking on a long playoff drought, but it’s had almost no success on the college side either. The Bulls (University of Buffalo) have only once even beaten a ranked team, a 42-28 victory over Ball State in 2008. The university once voted to stop funding the team for five years in the early 70s. Since re-joining the top division in 1999, Buffalo is 52-137. Ouch. That’s a tortured college sports town. But the lack of longevity keeps us from writing that they are the most tortured college sports town.

We found ten other candidates that make a stronger case. But first, our methodology.

Given their television ratings, attendance and student support, football and men’s basketball are our country’s two most popular sports. So we centered our attention on these two. We limited our search for team’s that have suffered the most to those who have eclipsed 3,000 games played between football and basketball. We awarded points for bowl games played, bowl games won, NCAA Tournament appearances and extra points for any titles won.

The campuses that had the fewest points at the end represented our most tortured campuses.

10. Iowa State (33 points)

Iowa State basketball seems to be on its way up. (Phil Roeder)

Iowa State basketball seems to be on its way up. (Phil Roeder)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,756
Total Bowl Games: 12
Total Bowl Wins: 3
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 18

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

Iowa State’s made the last five NCAA Tournaments, but before its recent men’s basketball success, the Cyclone sports teams weren’t giving fans many reasons to smile. From 1945-2013, the men’s basketball team only advanced to the Sweet 16 three times. Meanwhile, the Cyclones have cycled through 22 football coaches in the past 95 years, and only one has left with a winning record – Earl Bruce, who left for Ohio State after six seasons with a 36-32 record. He’s in the Iowa State Hall of Fame. Four wins over .500!

To be fair, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for Iowa State. The wrestling team has produced eight Olympic medal winners over the years and won eight national championships.

9. Rutgers (26 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,296
Total Bowl Games: 10
Total Bowl Wins: 6
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 6

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

While their 6-4 victory over Princeton in 1869 is considered to be the birth of college football, it isn’t considered by anyone to be one of the most successful college football programs. Things have been tough enough over the years that Rutgers football blog On The Banks has been categorizing the toughest losses the team has had since the turn of the century. Ten bowl games and six bowl wins in 145 years isn’t a great success rate, but the team’s improved dramatically of late. Eight bowl games in the past ten seasons.

The football team is in much better position to end the heartache soon. The men’s basketball team has not made the NCAA tournament since 1991. In 1976 the team advanced to its only Final Four behind Phil Sellers, who went on to play one year in the NBA.

Rutgers has won one NCAA championship though – they were crowned fencing champions in 1949.

8. Rice (25.5 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,531
Total Bowl Games: 12
Total Bowl Wins: 7
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 4

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 1

Quick, what’s the Rice mascot?

We’re waiting.

It’s the Owls. We forgive you if you couldn’t pull the mascot of this small program lurking in the shadows of the many historically large Texas programs from memory. But Rice has some history of its own. It deserves your memory space. Honestly, they were a multi-sport powerhouse in the 40s and 50s. A regular in the NCAA Tournament once upon a time. Hell, the Heisman Trophy guy – John Heisman – once coached Rice’s football team. But that history didn’t transition into lasting success. Rice only made one bowl game between 1958 and 2012 and the basketball team hasn’t been back to the NCAA Tournament since 1970.

Now, to be fair, Rice has a very successful baseball program, one that’s produced a College World Series title and a 15-time conference champion and a seven-time College World Series qualifier. Somehow, the school draws under 3,000 fans to its baseball games.

7. Ohio (24 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,199
Total Bowl Games: 9
Total Bowl Wins: 2
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 13

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

The first of two Ohio schools on our list. The pain never stops in Ohio. Cleveland’s safe, but Athens is a problem.

Ohio’s a school that certainly doesn’t lack for effort. They’ve been playing at the highest level of college football since 1946. They’re one of two teams in the MAC with their golf course. They’ve got the largest basketball arena in the conference too. Ohio has tasted success on a small scale for sure. The Bobcats’ men’s basketball team has won 57% of its games over the life of the program.

But they’ve never been able to punch above their weight class, as some would say, and start unseating larger national programs like their neighbor to the northwest Ohio State.

Honestly, there hasn’t even been too much to watch on the football field. Ohio has produced fewer NFL players than any other school on our bottom ten list, with just 43 pros.

6. Washington State (23 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 4,018

Total Bowl Games: 11
Total Bowl Wins: 6
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 6

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

There are some teams on this list that can hide behind their residence in a small conference. Washington State cannot do that.

The town of Pullman, Washington lives and dies with its college team. The city’s population dwindles when the students head home every summer and residents take great pride in their Cougars when they’re showing up on a national stage. Unfortunately, they haven’t had much chance to take pride over the years. Recent basketball success under Tony Bennett was a brief reprieve, but the bad times have rolled back in since he left town in 2009.

At least they get to watch Klay Thompson star for the Warriors every year.

5. Bowling Green State (21 points)

Bowling Green football's done great work in the MAC, but struggled to get to the next level. (Chad Cooper)

Bowling Green football’s done great work in the MAC, but struggled to get to the next level. (Chad Cooper)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,080

Total Bowl Games: 12
Total Bowl Wins: 5
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 4

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

In the late 50s and early 60s, Bowling Green State was an MAC conference powerhouse. Unfortunately, annual MAC conference wins weren’t the same as winning the Big 10 or the Pac 10 every year. There was no Rose Bowl parade at the end of the tunnel for Bowling Green State. With an influx of bowl games over the last 30 years, BGSU has made appearances in a bowl game in each of the past four seasons. Unfortunately, Georgia Southern was too strong of an opponent in last season’s GoDaddy Bowl, and the Falcons fell 58-27.

Obviously, expectations are set a bit differently at Bowling Green than they are at Ohio State. An MAC conference championship is certainly something to be celebrated. When Bowling Green climbed into the top-25 in 2003, that must have been a pretty great feeling on campus. But no team wants to be anonymous every season, regardless of conference. Fleeting football success and no NCAA Tournament appearances since 1968 aren’t what college sports dreams are made of.

4. Tulane (18 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,549

Total Bowl Games: 11
Total Bowl Wins: 5
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 4

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

Tulane has produced NFL talents like Matt Forte, Shaun King, Mewelde Moore, Patrick Ramsey (first round pick, don’t laugh!) and JP Losman (first round pick, don’t laugh!), but their individual successes haven’t resulted in too many wins for the Green Wave. King’s 2003 Tulane team went undefeated but received no major bowl consideration. That snub and Tulane’s rabble rousing afterward partially contributed to major college football change, in the form of the BCS.

Seeing so many talents come through only to be met with losing season after losing season is a more painful experience than never having a reason to have expectations at all. After King’s undefeated season, Tulane had ten consecutive losing seasons and was forced to deal with the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. The University showed great strength in the face of adversity in dealing with that natural disaster, but Tulane’s men’s basketball team and football teams are still looking to turn the corner and into more prominent national programs.

Hope might be on the way on the hoops front, though. The team hired renowned former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. in March of 2016.

3. Northwestern (14 points)

Quarterback Mike Kafka went on to spend time with seven NFL teams. Northwestern has produced NFL talent, but not NCAA wins. (Derek Tam)

Quarterback Mike Kafka went on to spend time with seven NFL teams. Northwestern has produced NFL talent, but not NCAA wins. (Derek Tam)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,702

Total Bowl Games: 12
Total Bowl Wins: 2
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 0

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

Somehow, Northwestern’s football team, with its two bowl victories in 14 tries, towers over its basketball team historically. That’s not a sign of a thriving college sports town. Despite playing 111 seasons of men’s basketball, the Wildcats have never made the NCAA tournament. 2,500 games without a trip to the tournament. 2,500! Since joining the Big 10 in 1953, the ‘Cats have only 12 winning seasons.

Northwestern was a charter member of the Big 10 Conference but has never been able to capitalize on their proximity to Chicago and membership in one of the NCAA’s most influential conferences.

On the plus side, Northwestern has turned out a wide variety of politicians, international leaders and activists alongside entertainers like Ira Glass, Warren Beaty and Seth Meyers. So there’s that!

2. Western Michigan (11 points)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,199

Total Bowl Games: 9
Total Bowl Wins: 2
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 13

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

The MAC conference is a tortured group; there’s no other way to put it. These aren’t tiny schools. They’re campuses with over 20,000 students stuck between being walkovers and competing on a national level. We’ve seen their neighbors in the Missouri Valley Conference leap ahead of prominent conferences like the Big 10 and former Big East over the past ten years in basketball. Time and again teams like Creighton and Northern Iowa have surprised, to the point where MVC teams making deep runs in the NCAA tournament isn’t even a surprise anymore.

But MAC teams haven’t been able to string together the same type of success. Western Michigan has made just four NCAA Tournament appearances, with three of them ending in the before the third round. And in the age of everyone gets a bowl game, WMU has made bowls in each of the last two seasons, losing the “Famous Idaho Potato Bowl” and winning the “Bahamas Bowl” – their second bowl win and first since 1988.

1. Idaho (8 points)

125+ years of struggle. (A. Davey)

125+ years of struggle. (A. Davey)

Total Football/Men’s Basketball Games: 3,464

Total Bowl Games: 2
Total Bowl Wins: 2
Total NCAA Tournament Appearances: 2

Football / Men’s Basketball / College World Series Championships: 0

Something’s wrong in the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho, home of the Vandals, is only 25 minutes east of number six on our list, Washington State, and has had even greater struggles. It’s cold. It’s dark. And they don’t win very much.

Two tournament appearances. Two bowl games.

I understand that students aren’t necessarily attending Idaho with the expectation that they’ll be seeing a big-time college sports program. But it has to kill Moscowians to see Boise State making a big splash in the past 20 years with their blue field and wins that defy all the odds.

We feel for you Moscow (and by the way, that’s pronounced mos-KOH, we’ll at least make sure everyone gets that right).

Callie Kollenbroich has been the Operations Coordinator and Content Writer/Editor at Rent College Pads since 2015. When she’s not working, you can find her at home, eating peanut butter out of the jar and bingeing an unhealthy amount of Forensic Files. She’s not as lame as she sounds.

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