After a season that brought the athletic program five different WAC titles thus far, there is not much more Idaho could do to leave its mark before exiting the Western Athletic Conference.
The key in that sentence is “not much,” because there is one more thing that Idaho athletic director Rob Spear wants to win before it’s all said and done.
One thing has been able to elude the Vandals since they joined the conference back in 2005 — the WAC Commissioner’s Cup.
The Commissioner’s Cup is given out every year to the top athletic program in the WAC. It accounts for how every sport at a school finishes in the WAC, handing out points based on order of finish. The school with the most points at the end of the school year receives the cup.
Idaho’s first few years in the WAC led it to finish in the middle of the pack, but the last three years have really been a step up.
“I don’t want to jinx us, but we are in good shape,” Spear said, speaking of the 2013-14 athletic year. “I think that we’ll have a big enough lead, even if we don’t have softball or baseball, which has killed us the last two years.”
The Vandals have finished second in the standings for the last two years.
What stings about both of those losses is Idaho led each of the past two years going into the last four sports of the season — baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s track and field.
Two of four sports Idaho does not offer, meaning that schools were able to score points in sports that Idaho doesn’t sponsor.
The last two winners of the Commissioner’s Cup were Texas-San Antonio and Fresno State, two schools that have left the WAC. Both of those schools were able to achieve success in baseball and softball.
With that success, Idaho ended up losing the cup by single digit points both years.
With the other programs in the WAC this season though, Idaho is sitting better than they have in past years.
At this point in the standings, Idaho has a 19-point lead going into the last stretch of four sports, and the team sitting behind them — New Mexico State — only plays in three of the four sports.
The Vandals are looking good to come out on top.
The reason is the two sports the Vandals have left to compete in — men’s and women’s track and field.
The track and field team, coached by Wayne Phipps, has enjoyed success in theWAC Championships ever since Phipps was hired. That success could finally mean getting the elusive cup.
The team wants to win the WAC Championship, but the coaches know what’s riding on the finish and they want to help secure the cup for the athletic department in the program’s final year in the WAC.
“Our goal is to go in and always be in the top three at conference and so that’s going to contribute for the Commissioner’s Cup,” track and field coach Julie Taylor said. “We feel like this year, we have had some amazing teams do well in the WAC, all across the board for the department. So, we want to go and contribute as well and do our best and we feel like we have a team this year that should contend on both the men’s and women’s (side) and that would be a great benefit to the Commissioner’s Cup.”
A top three finish on both sides of the track and field championships could certainly be what Idaho needs to finally clinch its first Commissioner’s Cup.
Spear said this is something he doesn’t talk about with Phipps for two reasons — he doesn’t want to jinx it and he knows Phipps is going to come out and have his team compete at the highest level.
But for Idaho, this transcends just the track and field team. This cup could mean a lot as a whole for the athletic department and could put a lot of teams on notice as they enter the Big Sky Conference next year for competition.
“Would it mean a lot for this (athletic) program? Yeah, it’s a good way to go out of the WAC,” Spear said.
Phipps is going for his 11th and 12th WAC Championships with the men’s and women’s track and field programs. Idaho will compete at the WAC Championships in Orem, Utah, next week. Obtaining those trophies would also guarantee Idaho’s first Commissioner’s Cup.
Rick Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org