SBJ/March 7-13, 2011/Colleges

Cup’s scoring irks college sports execs

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Several highly placed university administrators have complained to the NCAA about the Capital One Cup’s method for selecting an all-sports champion.

Capital One, an NCAA corporate champion, introduced the program in September as a central piece of its activation in college sports, where the credit card company is thought to spend $50 million to $60 million a year. Some marketers say Capital One spends as much or more in sponsorship and advertising against colleges than any other company, considering its massive spend with ESPN, an NCAA sponsorship, bowl sponsorship and more.
But Kevin White, the athletic director at Duke, said the Capital One Cup has created “a lot of angst” because of the way “it discriminates between sports.”

Capital one
“It suggests to some 400,000 student athletes that their experiences are less valuable and/or less important than others,” White said.

The Capital One Cup was conceived as a way to crown a men’s and women’s champion for overall athletic excellence. A seasonlong points system gives credit for championships and a school’s standing in the final coaches poll in each selected sport. The winning men’s and women’s program each will receive a $200,000 donation to fund scholarships.

But some athletic directors and conference commissioners bristle at the tiered scoring system, which provides more points for football and basketball. “I understand that there’s interest in football and basketball, but if they want total buy-in on campus, they’ve got to recognize all sports the same way,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith said. “The educational experience for all is the same. That’s all we’re trying to get across. It’s not that there’s rage or a massive movement, but there is concern and some disappointment.”

For example, a national championship in cross country, tennis or golf is worth 20 points. Championships in lacrosse, track and soccer are worth 40 points. Basketball and football championships earn that school 60 points. The system was based on fan interest, attendance and other factors.

The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics have their own method of selecting an all-sports champion with the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup, which distributes points evenly across all men’s and women’s sports. Stanford has won that title 16 years in a row.

“The concern that I consistently hear is the tiering of the sports and making some sports more valuable than other sports,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said of the Capital One Cup. “It doesn’t send the kind of message most of our institutions are trying to send, in terms of every sport and every athlete being important.”

In a statement from Capital One, Marc Mentry, the managing vice president, advertising and sponsorship, said, “We believe the Capital One Cup is structured in a way that establishes a true measure of cumulative athletic excellence. … We are certainly sensitive to any concerns people may have about the award and we take feedback seriously. We want everyone to be as passionate about the Capital One Cup as we are, and are committed to soliciting and evaluating input as we look for ways to grow and evolve the Capital One Cup.”

Defining how much commercialism is too much in college athletics is often a moving target for administrators. They sense the need to protect athletes from exploitation, while also feeling the pressure to generate more revenue in troubled economic times. But they seem more emboldened against the Capital One Cup — despite the revenue Capital One drives into college sports — by the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which first expressed a concern about the inequitable points system last fall.

The NCAA’s new president, Mark Emmert, also ran into more Capital One criticism in January at the NACDA midwinter meeting.

Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s executive vice president, said he’s trying to facilitate a meeting between Capital One and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “Both sides are interested in having that discussion and, frankly, very excited about it,” Shaheen said.

Capital One said it also intends to meet with NACDA officials, possibly at the Final Four in Houston next month. Colgate AD Dave Roach, the NACDA president, said, “We want this to be something we can embrace and support.”

“We just don’t like the emphasis of one sport over another. … Honestly, every time [ESPN’s] Rece Davis comes on to do the commercial, it’s irritating.”

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