VARSITY TEAMS: 18
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 11
FAMOUS ALUMNI: KENNY LOFTON, DAMON STOUDAMIRE
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: DIRTBAG'S, A SPORTS HANGOUT
Arizona's 58-year-old football coach, Dick Tomey, regularly plays one-on-one at McKale Center, the Wildcats' basketball arena. The always-packed student rec center features an Olympic-sized pool and a vast window-front workout area allowing passersby on Sixth Street to gawk. Business marquees across Tucson blare some variation of the same message: BEAR DOWN CATS.
These are just a few indications of the enthusiasm for sports at Arizona, a jock oasis. The Wildcats' upset of Kentucky in this year's NCAA men's basketball final—the culmination of Arizona's 13 straight tournament appearances and three Final Four visits since 1985—underscored the school's athletic rise. In Softball the Wildcats have won four national titles in the last six years. The women's golf team is the defending NCAA champion and stars individual champ Marisa Baena. Arizona has earned a total of four NCAA titles in men's golf and baseball since 1976.
Tucson's 310 days a year of sunshine attract students eager to get out and play. Hiking and biking opportunities abound in the nearby mountains. Mount Lemmon, 30 miles north, is the southernmost ski area in the U.S. Golf, anyone? There are 26 public and 11 private courses in the city.
Arizona is progressive: It was the first Division I school to hire a woman as strength coach, the first to hire a woman athletic administrator to oversee football and men's basketball, and one of the first to hire a black basketball coach (Fred Snowden, in the 1970s). Its extensive program for disabled students fields teams in wheelchair basketball, rugby, track and road racing. Each year the wheelchair hoopsters—known as the Wildchairs—play members of the Wildcats' men's and women's varsity in a wheelchair game that has drawn more than 12,000.
Not convinced? The facilities, among them the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center, are superb. Alumni include baseball's youngest manager, the Philadelphia Phillies' Terry Francona, and America's most-watched coach, Craig T. Nelson (of ABC's Coach).
Oh, did we mention the weather?