People can laugh at Eastern Washington's red turf all they want.
Their performance on that red turf this past season was already good enough to win them the Football Championship Subdivision title. Now that championship earned them a sixth place finish in the inaugural Capital One Cup.
And therein lies one major difference between the Capital One Cup and the more established Director's Cup.
Encompassing a broader range of sports than the Director's Cup, the Capital One Cup assigns tiered points to 13 men's sports - including splitting FBS and FCS football - and 13 women's sports. Points for the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year -- with men's and women's sports tracked separately -- and the championship is awarded to the top men's and top women's institution. The two winners get a prize that's probably more in tune with the NCAA's so-called Principle of Amateurism than anything else you'll hear about: a $200,000 donation to fund student-athlete graduate-level scholarships.
The Cup divides both men's and women's sports into three tiers with men's baseball, basketball, and football and women's basketball, softball, and volleyball as the top tier sports. Points are assigned by top ten finishes in official (read: ESPN) polls, with the higher tier sports being weighted more heavily. EWU, for example, earned the maximum 60 points for their Group 1 title in football.
Capital One announced today that the University of Florida men's athletics program has won the men's trophy after their second place finish in the College World Series. But it was also the Gators' success in other sports, finishing the spring athletics season with Top 10 finishes in outdoor track and field, tennis and baseball. Earlier in the year, Florida made strides in the winter season with Top 10 finishes in basketball, swimming and diving, and an impressive first-place finish at the indoor track and field championship.
"On behalf of the university, our student athletes and our fans, we are honored to accept the inaugural Capital One Cup trophy and $200,000 scholarship," said University of Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley. "Our goal is to strive for overall athletic success, and we're extremely proud of our men's program winning the Capital One Cup and our women's program placing fourth. Thank you to Capital One and its affiliated companies for their support of intercollegiate athletics."
Florida's total resume probably best represents what the Capital One Cup is all about: honoring the success that comes from hours of dedication and discipline across all sports.
Although EWU will only receive a commemorative Capital One Cup banner to display on campus, their sixth place finish probably goes even further in embodying what the Cup is all about: suddenly the small town school with the strange field has an opportunity for their achievement in football to be recognized alongside the high-profile teams with the big television contracts.
"On behalf of Capital One, we'd like to congratulate the University of Florida for winning the inaugural men's Capital One Cup," said Capital One Chief Marketing Officer, Bill McDonald. "It was exciting to see so many programs, including schools like Eastern Washington, stay in contention for the trophy throughout the year. The Gators' performance at the CWS and at multiple other NCAA Division I championships, including their National Championship at the indoor track and field championship, proves that every game, match and meet counts."
And if college sports really is about this idealistic - and often farcical - idea of a "principle of amateurism", then it's hard to ignore the value of recognizing championship teams - not only EWU, but the entire slate of non-revenue sports on the women's side - that really do honor what the whole endeavor is supposedly all about.
The point is not to argue here whether FCS football is worthy of television contracts or near star status for athletes who can't profit from their own likeness but whether the work putting into winning a championship is worthy of recognition.
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"It's different one, because it's two awards and it's separating out the men's and women's, which is, I think, great as opposed to putting it all into one," said Leslie. "It's also different from the Director's Cup in the sense that it's really highlighting a lot of the programs that usually don't get the spotlight and the attention that most of the other teams would usually get whether it's football or basketball. It just really highlights sports that don't get the attention."
It's also different than the Director's Cup in that Stanford probably won't dominate the award for 17 years straight, a streak they continued this year - perhaps ironically, separating out women's sports allowed Stanford to win the women's Capital One Cup while leaving room for someone else to win on the men's side.
Stanford didn't do to badly on the men's side either in finishing fifth, joining sixth place Cal as the two Pac-10 representatives. Cal's storybook baseball season in addition to winning the men's swimming title. Stanford had top ten finishes in multiple sports but had their best men's finish in football.
Florida will be formally honored along with the women's Capital One Cup winner, Stanford University, at the ESPY Awards televised by ESPN on July 13, during which the Capital One Cup trophy and their scholarship prize will be presented.
Men’s Capital One Cup Final Standings
1 – Florida (93 pts)
2 – Virginia (82 pts)
3 – Auburn (70 pts)
3 – Texas A&M (70 pts)
5 – Stanford (69 pts)
6 – Cal (61 pts)
7 – Connecticut (60 pts)
7 – Eastern Washington (60 pts)
7 – South Carolina (60 pts)
10 – Ohio State (52 pts)