Friday, July 2, 2010

Cup Stuff

The final Learfield Directors' Cup standings came out yesterday, and Princeton finished 32nd in Division I.

Going back before Learfield was the sponsor, it was called the U.S. Sports Academy Directors' Cup. Before that, and for many years, it was the Sears Cup.

The Cup is a pretty unheralded award, at least on a national media stage, though it is big with the colleges themselves. It's also a very strong barometer of overall, broad-based athletic success, since you need to have quality teams across the board to accumulate points.

The formula is a simple one. Points are awarded for NCAA finish in a predetermined number of sports for men and women, and these points are added together to find the top overall program.

The champion of the Directors' Cup has usually been Stanford in Division I, UC Davis or Grand Valley State in Division II and Williams in Division III.

How dominant have those schools been?

Well, there have been 17 Cups awarded in Division I. North Carolina won the first; Stanford has won the next 16.

The program was extended to Division II and Division III two years later. In D-II, UC-Davis won six of the first eight (Adams State and Cal St.-Bakersfield won one each); Grand Valley State has won every year since. The championship that the Lakers won this year was the school's seventh straight.

In Division III, Williams won the first two, UCSD won the next one, and now Williams has rolled to the last 12.

As for Princeton, the Tigers don't exactly start each year figuring to win the Cup, though Princeton was ranked second at one point during the fall.

Still, the program's finishes have been remarkable - and consistent. Princeton has finished as the top Ivy League school 16 of 17 years, which is even more impressive given that the league schools traditionally do well given the Ivy philosophy of broad-based participation.

TigerBlog took the time to go through the NACDA site and check on Princeton's finishes each year, going back to 1993-94.

In all that time, Princeton has never finished lower than 63rd and has only been out of the Top 50 three times.

Aside from those three, Princeton has never below 47th, and Princeton has been in the Top 40 12 times in 17 years. There have been five Top 30 finishes, with an all-time best of 21st in 2001-02 (women's NCAA championship, men's lacrosse final).

Princeton won but five Ivy League championships in 2004-05 and still finished 42nd in the Directors' Cup, helped enormously by Final Four appearances in women's soccer and men's water polo.

As Princeton fans know, the athletic department often refers to its 24 straight years of winning the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship and its 39 straight years with at least one team or individual national champion.

In many ways, though, the Directors' Cup is more impressive. Within the league, Princeton competes with seven other schools who have roughly the same institutional philosophies, resources, obstacles, etc.

In the Cup, it's much different, as there are more than 300 Division I schools, the majority of which are offering athletic scholarships and have much different institutional perspectives on the balance of athletics and student life.

One thing TB always does is look at the schools directly ahead and behind Princeton. In the most recent final standings, this is how places 27-37 went:
Notre Dame, Maryland, Kentucky, Arizona, Baylor, Princeton, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Illinois, Brigham Young and West Virginia.

To compete with those schools, all of whom except for BYU is in a BCS conference (and BYU is hardly an athletic slouch), is extraordinary.

And yet, year after year, Princeton routinely finishes right in the mix with schools like this.

In fact, Princeton has improved its standing each of the last four years, going form 63rd to 60th to 40th a year ago to 32nd this year.

When the accomplishments of the Class of 2010 are listed, that one will probably be forgotten behind the number of Ivy titles and teams that finished in the top three in the league or won at least one league title in four years or competed nationally.

Still, to have a prize like this and have an Ivy League school finish in the Top 40 for 12 of 17 years isn't something that should be glossed over.

TigerBlog, for one, is impressed.

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