AZUSA, Calif. -- Were it not for last year’s nail-biting three-point winning margin, Azusa Pacific’s unprecedented seventh consecutive Learfield Sports NAIA Directors’ Cup would have been the Cougars’ tightest win ever for the annual trophy awarded to the best athletics program in the NAIA.
Azusa Pacific led from wire-to-wire and ended up winning by a final margin of 68.5 points over second-place Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Fla.), who along with Shorter College (Ga.) tallied over 400 points each in the spring to make a late run and vault into the top three in their programs’ best-ever Directors’ Cup finishes. It was only the third time during the Cougars’ seven-year reign atop the competition that the final margin was closer than 100 points, and Azusa Pacific’s last two Cup wins have come by a combined 71.50-point spread.
“It’s my honor to accept this award for the NAIA and for Azusa Pacific University,” said Director of Athletics Bill Odell, who is retiring this summer after guiding the Cougar Athletics program to the top of the NAIA sports landscape over a 20-year period that included the past 15 as athletics director. “Two weeks from today will be my first day of retirement. This is a time of nostalgia as I look back at my 20 years at Azusa Pacific and see the growth that is measured for us in athletics by the Directors’ Cup.”
Despite the narrow final margin, the Cougars were able to put the competition out of reach midway through the year with nearly 400 points in the seven-sport winter season. Azusa Pacific set NAIA records for the highest combined fall and winter scoring total (691.5) and the largest lead heading into the spring championships, a 192-point cushion that represented the widest margin ever between first and second place in any NAIA final winter standings since the awards program began in 1996.
“When I first got to Azusa Pacific, we were fortunate to have an outstanding men’s track program,” Odell said. “In the time that I’ve been here, we have now won 23 national championships in a variety of sports, we have grown in student population from 1,200 to 5,200 students, while 12 of our 17 athletic teams are recognized as scholar-athlete teams and we have, as the university prescribes, service learning and community involvement with every one of our athletic teams.”
Azusa Pacific extended its streak of Directors’ Cup top-10 finishes to all 16 years of the award’s history, the only NAIA school to do so, and the Cougars’ 15 finishes in the top five are unmatched by any other NAIA athletics program.
“Winning the Directors’ Cup the last seven years shows me that we have changed as an institution and we have grown as an institution,” Odell said. “It’s my pleasure to accept this award for such a fine place as my last active assignment. I would like to thank USA Today, NACDA, and Learfield Sports for this award; we appreciate it and are excited to receive it each year. It never becomes commonplace.”
Despite the late run from the relatively new challengers, the latest cup to enter the Hall of Champions trophy case will be remembered as the product of yet another balanced all-around effort. While Azusa Pacific’s 2011 NAIA women’s basketball title stole the winter show for a 100-point boost in the standings, the 2010-11 campaign featured a return to NAIA championship events for four Cougar teams.
After an 11-3 finish to the regular season that included four wins over top 10-ranked foes, Azusa Pacific softball won a three-game GSAC playoff series over No. 10-ranked Concordia to snag a national tournament at-large bid, its first NAIA Tournament appearance since 2001.
The Cougar football program ended a four-year postseason hiatus with a return to the 16-team NAIA Football Championship Series, while men’s soccer and men’s cross country each returned to national championship play in the fall of 2010. As a result, Azusa Pacific’s resurgent fall men’s sports lineup bounced back from being shut out in 2009 to a solid 82-point contribution (32 for men’s cross country and 25 each for football and men’s soccer).
Semifinals appearances for women’s soccer and women’s tennis resulted in 83 points for each, and women’s track and field contributed 85 points for a third-place finish at the national indoor meet along with another 75 points for placing fifth at the NAIA outdoor championships. Another fifth-place finish in women’s swimming and diving was worth 75 more points.
On the men’s side, track and field led the way with a fourth-place tie at the indoor championships for 77.5 points and a 62.25-point contribution for a 13th-place tie at the outdoor meet. Men’s tennis advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals, netting 70 points, and a first-round win at the NAIA men’s basketball national tournament brought Azusa Pacific 53 points to add to the men’s fall sports totals.
The Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup program awards points based on an institution’s finish in up to 12 sports (six women’s and six men’s), and Azusa Pacific provided plenty of scoring options throughout the 2010-11 campaign. The Cougars registered points in 16 of the 17 sports eligible for Directors’ Cup scoring, with 12 teams notching top-10 finishes in their respective sports. In fact, two of those top-10 finishes did not even make it into the final point tally as Azusa Pacific’s minimum score for a women’s sport to count towards the overall total was 75 points.
2010-11 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup Scoring
Women’s Sports (top 6 scores are used to calculate overall Directors’ Cup scoring total): Women’s Basketball (1st place – 100), Women’s Indoor Track & Field (3rd – 85), Women’s Soccer (3rd – 83), Women’s Tennis (3rd – 83), Women’s Swimming & Diving (5th – 75), Women’s Outdoor Track & Field (5th – 75), Women’s Cross Country (6th – 72), Volleyball (9th – 64), Softball (18th – 39)
Men’s Sports (top 6 scores are used to calculate overall Directors’ Cup scoring total): Men’s Indoor Track & Field (4th – 77.5), Men’s Tennis (5th – 70), Men’s Basketball (9th – 53), Men’s Outdoor Track & Field (13th – 62.25), Men’s Cross Country (21st – 32), Football (9th – 25), Men’s Soccer (17th – 25)
Azusa Pacific’s Directors’ Cup Scoring and Winning Margins (2004-05 through 2010-11)
2004-05: 881 points (182-point margin of victory)
2005-06: 836 points (82-point margin of victory)
2006-07: 978.25* points (182-point margin of victory)
2007-08: 947 points (129-point margin of victory)
2008-09: 915 points (141-point margin of victory)
2009-10: 820 points (3-point margin of victory)
2010-11: 820.75 points (68.5-point margin of victory)
*NAIA Directors’ Cup scoring record