With the advent of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), there was hope that for once and for all the debate over who is the best Division I football program could be settled year in and year out. We all know that despite the best intentions and the lack of a real playoff system, that has not yet happened. Now whether or not that debate over the BCS Championship is healthy and drives even more buzz is one issue, but the fact remains that sans a playoff system the question still lingers. That of course is not true in any other NCAA sport, where season-ending championships are the rule not the exception. We know who wins March Madness, the College World Series, the Frozen Four, the NCAA Wrestling Championships etc etc. No doubt, it is out there for everyone to see.
However like the BCS, there would or could be some debate as to which overall school, at least on the Division I level, is the best at college athletics. For years quantity -- the schools that had twenty or more sports -- seemed to rise over quality. While there is no doubt that the real reason intercollegiate athletics should exist is to grow the overall student-athlete for success later in life in whatever field, there is still an interest to find a way to see which university is actually getting a return on the field as well as in the classroom for the dollars and time invested.
So along comes NCAA partner Capital One, with a solution to find a way to answer which school is best in show across athletics. This past week at a news conference in Manhattan, the brand joined with a team of former NCAA athletes of various renown to unveil the Capital One Cup, which will be awarded to the top men's and women's Division I programs based on cumulative on-field performance across multiple sports. According to the plan, colleges will earn points based on their teams' top-10 finishes and in final official coaches' polls in 13 men's and women's sports, including cross-country, golf and tennis for men, and volleyball, softball and rowing for women.
Official standings will be released at the end of the fall, winter and spring athletic seasons. In July, the two athletic programs with the highest aggregated point totals will be announced as winners. Each university will be presented with a trophy, along with a $200,000 scholarship donation from Capital One, at the ESPY Awards.
The athletes, all of whom have not only achieved onfield success but garner a bit of a Q rating, ranged from former NFL and Boston College quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and CBS announcer and former NCAA star Clark Kellogg, to Olympians like Lisa Leslie and Brandi Chastain, will also take an active part in bringing awareness to the cup throughout the calendar year, in the form of media appearances, commentary and perhaps promotions, all designed to make sure that a large swath of schools know the process, the levels for success and the upside from working together.
It also helps to have media partners like CBS Sports and ESPN on board to help generate awareness through their extensive on site activation programs across the seasons, a great compliment to the vast dollars Capital One already spends to build their own brand in a consumer market that is constantly looking for a diverse for of ROI and ways to cut through the clutter.
Maybe some critics will say this type of program is not needed, as it will ultimately reward the most elite of schools who can consistently put dollars back into a wide variety of athletic competitions. It is hard to see even a school like Boise State, who has cut through the clutter of football success, or Gonzaga, a powerhouse in hoops, be able to hoist the trophy because the dollars for recruiting are just not there across the board. Some may also say this is a program which again sets the public schools apart from the private ones, which unless you are Stanford, Notre Dame, Boston College or maybe Northwestern, means the closest you get to the cup is on a big screen TV.
Maybe that is true in some aspects, but what the cup does is bring clarity to a cluttered system, helps an NCAA partner grow its brand, gets some ancillary and much needed scholarship money into the system, and really brings some added value, even at the most elite of athletically successful universities, to those programs which usually shine away from the bright spotlights of hoops and football. It links revenue sports with non-revenue sports and helps gain buzz for all, and hopefully additional school spirit as well.
Could this be the start of something bigger, and pull in other divisions at some point? Maybe. What it is is a good start. Well thought out, multilayered and promotable program that is easy to explain to consumers and participants in a business where simple can often get lost in a morass of buzz for the sake of buzz.
Will the Capital One Cup take on the significance of long retired trophies like the Lambert Cup (which rewarded excellence for eastern college supremacy at one point)? Maybe. It certainly has the media and national cache to help it grow and maybe it's time has come.