The Director’s Cup: Demystifying the dream

Every year for the last decade, Williams has earned a distinction that puts it above 426 other institutions, yet many students know little about the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics’ (NAGDA) Director’s Cup. The Director’s Cup has been awarded annually every year since 1995 to the colleges and universities with the most successful athletic programs in Div. I, Div. II, Div. III and NAIA (the award began in 1993 but only for Div. I schools). Since its inception, Williams has won the Cup 12 of 13 years and has claimed the last 10 consecutively.

The scoring for the Director’s Cup in Div. III is based on the success of up to 18 varsity sports – nine men’s and nine women’s – within the division. Currently, 32 teams of male and female Ephs compete in the name of collegiate athletics, and so theoretically up to 18 of those teams may qualify for scoring within the Cup. Once any team makes it to the NCAA Championships, they begin scoring points for Williams towards the award. Winning the NCAA earns a team 100 points toward the Cup, with the amount of points awarded decreasing in descending order.

The only exceptions to the qualification rules are found in men’s and women’s squash, football and men’s crew. Football is not eligible to score points toward the Director’s Cup because the NESCAC guidelines do not permit schools in the conference to have football teams compete in the NCAAs. Both squash teams have their own governing bodies and so are independent. And according to Harry Sheehy, the director of Athletics, the most likely reason that only men’s crew is excluded is due to Title 9 provisions, which require proportionality between bodies of men’s sports and women’s sports. Essentially, any school that has a large football team will throw off the balance of equal opportunity for male and female participation in athletics, and so for balance within the NCAA men’s crew is not eligible.

So how has Williams managed to pull off the feat of clinching 12 of a total 13 eligible Director’s Cups? There are 426 institutions in Div. III athletics, as compared to 342 within Div. I and 282 in Div. II. In theory, this would make the Div. III title the hardest to win. “Many of the other Div. III schools are non-competitive – they simply don’t have enough teams. We have 32 varsity teams, so we can score in the maximum number allowed, which is 18,” Sheehy said. “The amazing thing is that our budgets aren’t pointed toward winning [the Director’s Cup]. Many schools have budgets that are, whereas recruiting budgets here are [very] low.” It follows, then, that year-after-year domination in the award comes from the intensity and dedication of the student-athletes that comprise Williams’ teams. Last year 19 sports teams qualified for consideration.

In the same vein of how Sheehy points out that Williams’ recruiting budget isn’t geared specifically toward winning the Director’s Cup, many coaches don’t actively steer their teams toward that goal. Little Threes, the NESCAC title and the NCAA title are more immediate goals. “I think it is an honor that we have won the Director’s Cup so many years in a row, particularly because we don’t outrightly make it our goal to do so,” said Alison Swain, the head coach of women’s tennis. “When we win the Director’s Cup, it is a testament to how hard our athletes work, but it is not something that as a coach I set out to do. As a tennis team, we want to compete our best, continue to improve, and be a close-knit, supportive team. If contributing points toward winning the Director’s Cup is a result of that effort, then that is just an added bonus.”

Grace Baljon ’10 of women’s tennis gave the players’ perspective of earning the award. “When all of our hard work, motivation and team spirit culminated in winning the 2008 National Championship, in that moment, there was no better thing in the world,” she said. “But, there was. Knowing that our team helped Williams College earn its 10th [straight] Director’s Cup is something we can be proud of for the rest of our lives. We were able to give back to this institution that offers us so much.”

With the success the Ephs have already found so far, this year should see Williams gain its 11th Director’s Cup. The fall found Williams athletics teams doing as well as expected, and this winter the newfound success of men’s ice hockey, which hasn’t seen a NESCAC tourney since 2000, should if anything bump Williams up to a more advantageous position than it found itself last year. Williams is currently ranked second in the standings behind Cortland State as of December 23, trailing by 27 points; the next assessment will come out by March 19. If Swain’s women’s tennis team can be looked to bring home another NCAA title, and there’s good reason to expect they can, that’s another 100 points under the Ephs’ already beefy belt.

Last fall, Williams found itself third behind Washington and Amherst. The Ephs kept the same position after the winter standings, but the efforts of the spring teams truly delivered the cup into the College’s hands. Both golf teams brought the College points, as did men’s lacrosse and track and field. Men’s tennis earned a solid 73 points, while powerhouse women’s tennis and women’s crew both pulled 100 points each to clinch the Cup.

“Winning the Director’s Cup for so many years is a real testament to the strength of our coaches and the quality of our student-athletes, and their dedication to Williams athletics,” Sheehy said.