Sponsored by Capital One
By Dave Doyle
The NCAA spring season is working its way to a conclusion, with men’s and women’s national champions set to be determined in a variety of sports over the course of the next couple of weeks.
And with the conclusion of another school year comes time to crown winners in the race for the 2011-12 Capital One Cup, which awards the best NCAA Division I men’s and women’s athletics programs. In addition to the Capital One Cup trophy and some serious bragging rights for their fans, the winning schools will receive a combined $400,000 in scholarship money for student-athletes.
Going into the home stretch of postseason play, North Carolina leads the men’s race with 75 points, with Kentucky second (66) and Alabama and North Dakota State tied for third (60). On the women’s side, defending champion Stanford leads with 129.5 points, followed by UCLA (92) and Baylor (60).
Joining The Big Lead to discuss the Capital One Cup is Rece Davis, ESPN’s resident college sports expert. The popular Davis is the host of College Football Live and an anchor on the network’s College Football and College Basketball GameDay shows. Davis is also an Advisory Board member for the Capital One Cup and is active in raising awareness for the program.
The Big Lead: Tell us about your interest in the Capital One Cup.
Rece Davis: I feel the Capital One Cup is about all the right things in college athletics. Capital One is looking to take teams which have achieved excellence on the field and reward them in the area that really matters, by funding scholarships for the student-athletes’ efforts in the classroom. In this day and age, it’s important to remember that success in college starts in the classroom.
TBL: As we head toward the home stretch, Stanford leads the women’s standings. The Cardinal also won the women’s Capital One Cup trophy last year. To what do you attribute their success?
RD: Stanford has a well-established reputation as one of the best academic schools in the country and they’ve made a serious commitment to athletics in both men’s and women’s sports. It’s not just the football team, or the women’s basketball team, or the notoriously big sports. Their success extends across the board, to the non-revenue sports like track and field and cross country. They’ve got it all.
TBL: Another name that stands out is Baylor. How do the Bears manage success against bigger schools?
RD: That’s been an interesting case study. [Athletic Director] Ian McCaw has done such a great job over there, and it’s also a testament to the job [men’s basketball coach] Scott Drew and [women’s basketball coach] Kim Mulkey have done in building those programs. It also helps when you have an athlete the caliber of Robert Griffin III bringing headlines to the athletics program. What that means is that you’re going to attract even more top-notch athletes to the school. Baylor is never going to have the resources of, say, a Texas, but they’ve done a wonderful job of getting to where they are, having a Heisman Trophy winner, winning national championships, and being in a position to win the Capital One Cup.
TBL: The men’s race is up for grabs, with North Carolina in the lead. Can you pick a winner?
RD: I’m not going to predict a winner, but you have to think North Carolina has a solid chance. They’re already in the lead, and the Tar Heels are traditionally such a strong spring school in everything from baseball to golf. They’re as good a pick as any.
TBL: Talk a bit about North Dakota State, who is tied for third in the men’s standings.
RD: North Dakota State got their 60 points for winning the [FCS] championship. It shows how strongly the Capital One Cup rewards teams that excel by being the best at their sport. Now obviously they’re not going to win any more Division 1 men’s championships, but just in terms of being listed and recognized with some of the bigger schools, the Kentuckies and Ohio States and UCLAs, that can only help out the school’s prestige.
TBL: Now let’s move to the college gridiron. This is a bit loaded question since you’re an Alabama guy, but who do you think are the early favorites this year in college football?
RD: Well, I know this is going to sound like I’m a homer, but if you look at it, there’s really no reason to believe that Alabama and LSU aren’t going to be right there at the top of the pack again. The Tide bring so many of their key players back, and have so many ready to step up. LSU is going to have a tremendous defense. If you’re looking for a sleeper, USC is poised for a strong season. They’re still going to have to deal with their scholarship reductions over the long term, but as of now they’ve got a heck of a team that was playing some of the nation’s best ball at the end of last year.
TBL: Any very preliminary picks on who will show up at the Georgia Dome for the men’s Final Four next year?
RD: It’s too soon to go ahead and say all four teams which will make the Final Four, but there are two teams I’ll say for sure: Indiana and Louisville. With Louisville, I mean, look at what they achieved last year and how many of their guys they’re bringing back. And with Indiana, I think it’s great for college basketball that the Hoosiers are shaping up the way they are. College basketball is at its best when the traditional powers are doing well and if you look at their lineup on paper for next year, they looked like they’re poised for a run.
TBL: Finally, we’re on the 40th anniversary of Title IX. What impact has this had on college athletics?
RD: It’s been wonderful on a number of levels. First and foremost, of course, are the educational opportunities. But in terms of competition, you have to remember, when you and I were growing up, it would take a truly extraordinary women’s competitor to catch the nation’s attention – someone like Mary Lou Retton or Jackie-Joyner Kersee in the Olympics, or a Lisa Leslie dropping 100 points on her opponents. Now these days, the women’s big events hold right up there with the men’s events in terms of both the quality and the fan interest. And that’s not to mention off the field, so many of my great colleagues at ESPN are breaking barriers, whether it’s as play-by-play announcers and SportsCenter hosts. Title IX has been wonderful.