PARK CITY, Utah – A record-breaking academic year coupled with a history-making season of competition allowed the University of North Dakota to capture its first Big Sky Conference Presidents' Cup. League officials announced the award Monday at the league's annual Big Sky Kickoff event.
In its 15th year, the Presidents' Cup promotes the Big Sky's commitment to academics and recognizes a member school's overall success both in the classroom and in competition.
"This is great recognition of the tremendous job that our student-athletes, our coaches, administrative staff and, in particular, the academic support staff have done this year," UND athletics director Brian Faison said. "It's been an incredible year and this award recognizes both athletic accomplishment and academic accomplishment.
"What a special year it's been to win four major championships in the Big Sky and for our student-athletes to have done the job they did, it's been incredible," continued Faison. "And again, it goes back to what's really been the case at North Dakota and that is student really comes first in student-athlete and that's definitely borne out with this award."
The Presidents' Cup is awarded annually to the program that succeeds both academically and athletically, as measured by a variety of categories. Regular-season team standings in eight of the league's 14 sports make up the athletic tier of the Presidents' Cup criteria.
Points are also awarded in men's and women's cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field and golf by virtue of finish at the Big Sky championship. Teams are ranked according to average points per sport.
On the other side, the academic tier measures the academic progress rate (APR) and each team's grade-point averages (GPA) of Big Sky sponsored sports.
“We are extremely proud to receive the Big Sky Conference Presidents' Cup for this previous academic year," said UND President Mark Kennedy. "This achievement represents the tireless efforts of our student-athletes that extend far beyond the fields, rinks, and courts where they compete. It shows that the true spirit of the Fighting Hawks also shows itself in the determination and dedication that these individuals apply in the classrooms and their communities.
Kennedy continued: "I'd like to congratulate all of our student-athletes, coaches, and our entire athletics department for this exceptional accomplishment. University of North Dakota athletics is truly home to leaders in action.”
UND secured its first Presidents' Cup victory and became the sixth Big Sky program to win the cup since the award's implementation in 2002-03. The Fighting Hawks placed fifth overall in the athletic standings, winning titles in volleyball and men's basketball, while also finishing as co-champions in football and women's basketball.
Furthermore, UND is the first Big Sky school to win regular-season titles in volleyball, football and men's and women's basketball.
However, it was UND's performance in the classroom that clinched the Presidents' Cup victory. UND had the best APR rating for the fifth consecutive since joining the Big Sky, scoring a 991.1. It also finished third in team GPA (3.31), with its women's golf team recording a program-best 3.57 GPA.
“I would like to congratulate North Dakota's student-athletes and the University's leadership, administrators and coaches on a well-deserved Presidents' Cup victory,” said Big Sky Commissioner Andrea Williams. “It takes a combined effort to achieve such a feat and the Fighting Hawks' success both athletically and academically positioned them to earn this prestigious award.”
Finishing runner-up were the defending back-to-back champion Eastern Washington Eagles. EWU led in overall team GPA with a 3.46. Notably, EWU was also the only Big Sky member that had all of its teams report a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Finishing third overall was Montana, recording its best finish of second in the APR standings with a rating of 984.8. Behind Montana in the APR tier was Portland State with a score of 982.9.
In the athletic tier, Northern Arizona topped the list by winning seven conference championships last season, including men's and women's cross country, indoor track & field, tennis and women's outdoor track & field.
Additionally, Sacramento State and Weber State finished second and third, respectively, to round out the top-three schools in the athletic standings.
Montana's women's cross country team recorded the highest overall team GPA in the Big Sky Conference, turning in a 3.77. Montana also had the top men's GPA performance in the league this season (3.67), which was set by their men's tennis team.
Overall, the league saw 113 teams record a GPA of 3.0 or more. In all, 10 of 11 Big Sky full members recorded a GPA of at least 3.0, continuing the Big Sky's tradition of academic excellence.
“Big Sky institutions should be proud of their academic efforts throughout the year,” Williams said. “We have a tremendous group of student-athletes who make academics a priority, and this year's results further prove their hard work and dedication.”
The completely redesigned Presidents' Cup trophy will be showcased on the North Dakota campus for the next year. The results of the 2017-18 athletic and academic events will determine the awards future destination.
Past Presidents' Cup Winners
2002-03 Weber State
2003-04 Weber State
2004-05 Montana State
2005-06 Northern Arizona
2007-08 Weber State
2008-09 Weber State
2009-10 Eastern Washington
2011-12 Montana State
2012-13 Northern Arizona
2013-14 Northern Arizona
2014-15 Eastern Washington
2015-16 Eastern Washington
2016-17 North Dakota