Chasing the cup

Blugolds ranked third in Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup after fall season, look to improve in winter and spring seasons



When the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team boarded its bus back home from the 2015 NCAA Division III Women’s volleyball championships after a second round exit, the talk amongst the team was about their season that was, not the Directors’ Cup.

Like the Blugolds volleyball team, when the Eau Claire men’s cross country team hoisted the  NCAA Division III National Championship trophy in the air, the celebration had nothing to do with the Directors’ Cup.

In fact, most college athletes are unaware of what the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup even is and the prestige that it carries.

Since 1995 when it was made available to NCAA III schools, the Directors’ Cup has been awarded to the university with the most athletic success in an academic year.

Scoring structure is based off order of finish in NCAA Championship Tournaments, and after the fall sports season, Eau Claire ranks third in the Directors’ Cup standings.

Two of the six Blugold athletic teams with schedules ending before Nov. 25, qualified for their respective national tournament.

With the volleyball team’s opening round win and the cross country team’s national championship, the points garnered from both combined finishes earned Eau Claire a third place ranking.

Director of Athletics Dan Schumacher said though he is pleased with the university’s fall finish, the year is still young, and he focused on helping the winter and spring athletics teams have strong seasons.

“We’re very encouraged that we were able to place this high this early in the year, I think last year overall we placed 20th in the country,” Schumacher said. “And my goal as an athletic director is to always be in the top 15 in the country.”

Though his goal is to always be inside the top 15, Schumacher has made it clear to every coach, player, student and resident of Eau Claire that his eyes are on the No.1 spot.

Schumacher said, he thinks about how UW-Whitewater has placed inside the top five several times and doesn’t see why in the future the Blugolds can’t claim the top spot.

From NCAA Division I standpoint, the benchmark is Stanford University (Cal.) who’s won the cup every year since 1993.

Stanford is the model of excellence because of their success across their athletic program, not just a few revenue generating sports, and its design for achievement is one Schumacher plans to follow.

“My job as athletic director isn’t to just make sure football wins, or make sure hockey wins,” Schumacher said. “It’s about making sure there is support and a strategy to build up all sports and raise the entire program up.”

The benefits of finishing well in the Directors’ Cup trickle down through an athletic department and across all sports. Blugold softball coach Leslie Huntington said the merit of placing for the cup helps both motivate her players and win in recruiting visits.

When inside a recruit’s home, or when families of potential future Blugolds are in her office, Huntington said being able to use statistics to defend the claim that Eau Claire is one of the top academic and athletic universities in the nation is a powerful selling point.

“Any time you can get recognition like this across the country people are going to take notice,” Huntington said.

As the most winningest softball coach in Blugolds’ history, Huntington’s teams have contributed to the Directors Cup standing several times, most notably, in 2008 when Eau Claire softball won a national title.

Despite her track record of success, Huntington said she uses the results of the Directors’ Cup to gain a better understanding of what her fellow Blugold coaches are doing to produce results.

The torch has now been passed to the winter sports teams which includes men’s and women’s basketball teams that Schumacher said are on the upturn.

Along with basketball are swimming and diving, wrestling and women’s hockey teams that are rebuilding and a men’s hockey team that has been a big part of Eau Claire’s rankings of late Schumacher said.

Schumacher said as a university, being able to achieve a top notch standard of academics along with athletics is key.

“It’s truly excellence, Schumacher said, “when you have high academics and high athletics.”