Competition heats up in Cap One race

What's known as the Directors' Cup is one of those things that seems like a great idea, but then really necessarily isn't in practice.

The concept of rewarding athletic departments for overall achievement across several sports and both genders actuality never resonated as being much of a competition in Division I … because the same school has won it over and over.

It essentially became an annual merit badge based on what seems more an "ideal" -- economically, philosophically and geographically -- among Division I athletic departments. Stanford won all but one of the cups; North Carolina took the inaugural award in 1993-94.

Academic prestige, longtime success in men's and women's Olympic sports, and a warm-weather climate gave Stanford an edge that a lot of schools couldn't even hope to compete against for a generalized honor.

A solution to this on the Division I level may not have pleased everyone, but it may make more sense: To create an award that's separate between men's and women's programs and put the sports in three tiers -- giving higher points value to sports based in part more on their spectator appeal and nationwide participation. And thus began the Capital One Cup for this academic year. (The Directors' Cup still continues for Divisions I-III and NAIA.)

Is there a perfect way to do this without irritating any faction? Of course not. For instance, lacrosse is a strongly East Coast-based sport, but is more heavily weighed for the Capital One Cup than golf or tennis, which are played in leagues across the country.

Still, this system of points accumulation is a more realistic approach that brings a greater number of schools into play for Capital One Cup competition. And it allows more specific recognition for schools' achievements in the women's collegiate sports that are most likely to garner a more consistent and growing television audience: basketball, volleyball and softball. The latter is the top-tier spring sport for the women, while baseball is the same for the men.

If you're still catching on to the Capital One Cup scoring, it's done like this: Points are awarded on a sliding scale for top-10 NCAA championship finishes and placement in final coaches' polls. Those points are then tripled for the tier 1 sports (the other two for men are football and basketball), and doubled for tier 2.

The latter has men's and women's track and field, along with lacrosse, for spring competition. Tier 3's spring sports are men's and women's golf and tennis, and women's rowing.

But will the changes in the process keep Stanford from taking home two overall achievement awards this year instead of just one? Perhaps not: The Cardinal men are currently in fourth place in the Capital One Cup standings; Auburn, on the strength of its football national championship, is in first.

And Stanford leads the women's Cup standings, having advanced to the Final Four in basketball, the Elite Eight in volleyball and the NCAA title game in soccer, a tier 2 sport.

Stanford made its way into last week's USA Today Sports Weekly/ESPN Poll in baseball at No. 25. In the Cardinal's weekend series at No. 7 Arizona State, the Sun Devils took two of three.

Stanford is No. 13 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25, coming off a series in which the Cardinal won two of three against Washington, which was No. 12 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.

An interesting thing is that Bay area and Pac-10 rival Cal -- which in March won both the men's and women's NCAA titles in swimming and diving -- is very close to Stanford in Capital One Cup standings through the winter sports. Cal's women are second to the Cardinal, while the Bears' men are in fifth place behind Stanford.

Attempting to project final finishes in the Cup standings is somewhat like trying to go through all the playoff scenarios in the NFL with a few weeks left in the season.

Nonetheless, as we enter May -- during which NCAA championships will be held for women in golf, tennis, lacrosse and rowing and for men in lacrosse and tennis -- there's at least a sense of real competition for Capital One Cup honors.

• The next NCAA championship will be for women's golf, May 18-21, hosted by Texas A&M. The tournament will be played at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas.

The Aggies finished second to Texas by 3 strokes in the Big 12 championships on April 24 in Columbia, Mo. And the Longhorns took the individual title, too: Sophomore Madison Pressel won by 5 strokes. If that surname sounds familiar to you, it should: Her older sister, Morgan, is an LPGA player who was offered a Duke scholarship but opted to turn pro instead in 2006. Morgan first made headlines when she qualified at age 12 for the U.S. Women's Open in 2001.

Madison and the Longhorns will next compete in the NCAA Central Regional championships Thursday-Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

• Oklahoma's men's tennis team got quite a surprising victory this weekend -- but it wasn't enough to give the Sooners what would have been their first Big 12 championship in that sport. Saturday, Oklahoma upset No. 5 Baylor on the Bears' home courts in the league tournament semifinals. But then Sunday, the Sooners fell to Texas A&M in the finals.

However, Baylor's women did triumph at home, winning their sixth consecutive Big 12 team tennis title. They are ranked seventh nationally.

The NCAA championships for men's and women's tennis are May 19-30, and Stanford is host. More Capital One Cup points coming there for the Cardinal squads? You can count on that.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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