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A Cup of Distinction

One DIII conference’s presidents cup weighs more than athletic success

Penn State-Abington earned the 2015 NEAC Presidents’ Cup, the first based on criteria such as academics and service. NORTH EASTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE PHOTO

Dominating on the court, on the field or in the pool simply isn’t enough to earn one Division III conference’s presidents’ cup. The North Eastern Athletic Conference – a collection of 14 schools from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. – considers not only athletic success, but sportsmanship, community service and academic achievement for its annual award, given to the conference’s top athletics program.

Each of the four areas is weighed equally. The new formula was implemented in 2014-15 and is the first of its kind in Division III. 

“It’s an excellent model to highlight what’s best about Division III,” NEAC Commissioner Candice Poiss Murray says. “It’s not just athletic achievement. It’s all of what we do on our campuses every day.”

Each school earns a ranking relative to its peers in the four areas. The academic ranking is based on the average GPA among athletes and a school’s proportion of conference scholar-athletes. The athletic ranking comes from a school’s winning percentage across all sports. For sportsmanship, coaches rate all of their conference opponents. And the community service ranking is an amalgam of the money raised, hours spent on and number of people who contributed to community service projects.

The inaugural winner under the new format, Penn State University, Abington, ranked first in both athletics and community service.

Murray says the new system has spurred some of the conference’s schools to pay more attention to behavior at sporting events and to better track the time and resources they devote to community service. Eventually, the NEAC might not be the only conference with such a well-rounded presidents’ cup: When she presented the new model to fellow conference commissioners in September, a handful were eager to learn the details of making the switch.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.