How important you think the Learfield Sports Directors Cup really is probably depends on how your school ranks its final standings.
It doesn’t help the cup’s prestige with the sports audience at large that it’s perennially won by Stanford, not exactly your biggest name in the two high-profile, big-money college sports, football and men’s basketball.
This year Stanford took its 15th consecutive Directors Cup, presented annually by the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors of America to the top intercollegiate athletic program in the nation. The Cardinal did it the way it always does — by loading up on championships and nationally ranked finishes in a host of mostly nonrevenue sports such as men’s gymnastics, women’s rowing, women’s volleyball, men’s water polo, men’s cross country, men’s swimming, women’s soccer … you get the idea.
They’re all legitimate sports, and UGA is certainly proud of its fifth straight national championship in women’s gymnastics and high national finishes in women’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis, men’s golf, softball, men’s tennis and so on. It wishes its national title in equestrian counted, but that’s not yet one of the cup sports.
The cup takes a holistic view of college athletics, where men’s water polo and golf are on equal footing with the BCS and March Madness. Philosophically, that’s the way things ought to be. But realistically, such bragging rights don’t mean much with most sports fans.
This is where I’ll no doubt be accused of sour grapes because UGA tumbled in the Directors Cup rankings this year to No. 18, its lowest placing in the cup standings since it was No. 28 in 1997. Since that time, UGA had ranked in the Top 15, finishing in the Top 10 four of the five previous years, including 10th place last year. Georgia placed second in 1999 and third in 2001.
This year’s decline was a result of not winning as many national titles and/or SEC titles in the spring sports as in recent years and, of course, men’s basketball not making the NCAA Tournament.
The cup might not matter to a lot of sports fans, but it matters to UGA athletics director Damon Evans, who told the Athens Banner-Herald he wants the Dogs to be a “mainstay” in the cup standings. “We’ve got to be at a minimum in the Top 10 and we haven’t been. … Then we want to start getting in that Top 5 to where we might be able to make some more noise in that Director’s Cup, because that’s a proud moment.”
Evans said Georgia has to “get better in certain areas. Men’s basketball has got to get better. Volleyball is improving and we’ve got to do some things there. We’ve gone backwards in some things … where traditionally we were a little better.”
Evans cited the women’s basketball program, which underperformed this year, barely making the NCAA tourney and losing in the first round after being a Sweet Sixteen fixture in the past. “I’m confident that it will get back to where it should be,” Evans said of women’s basketball, perhaps firing a warning shot across the bow of longtime Lady Dogs coach Andy Landers.
It’s clear Damon Evans wants one day to win that cup. Let’s just hope UGA doesn’t do it the Stanford way.