100 Years of the B1G Medal of Honor

April 22, 2014

The Big Ten, the nation’s oldest collegiate conference, commemorates the 100th anniversary of a very unique tradition – the Big Ten Medal of Honor. As part of the celebration, the conference is conducting a national campaign to pay tribute to the rich tradition established in 1915 and showcase the benefits of the student-athlete experience across its campuses.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — He didn’t know it at the time, but months after playing his last snap and weeks before taking his final exam, Dave Triplett was branded with a surname he would never shake.

In 1972, the Big Ten Medal of Honor was presented to Triplett in recognition of his efforts on the field and in the classroom. The Medal of Honor, established in 1915 and celebrating 100 years of tradition this spring, is the oldest award of its kind and the most exclusive award presented by the Big Ten Conference.

At the time Triplett was thankful for the honor, but like any college student, he was short on perspective.

“The Big Ten, back in those days and even today, is the premier scholar-athlete conference, but frankly I didn’t begin to realize that (the award) was important until people would introduce me as a Big Ten Medal of Honor winner and others would say, ‘Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment,'” said Triplett.

“I was like any other 21 or 22-year old kid. You don’t recognize it (at the time) other than it is certainly nice. Over the years it has meant more and more to me. It has a legacy going back to 1915, and these types of values are timeless.”
Dave Triplett

“I was like any other 21 or 22-year old kid. You don’t recognize it (at the time) other than it is certainly nice. Over the years it has meant more and more to me. It has a legacy going back to 1915, and these types of values are timeless.”

The league awards the Medal of Honor every year to one male and one female student-athlete from each institution that best personifies academic and athletic excellence. Triplett won the award in 1972, but began laying groundwork for distinction in 1968, his first year on campus.

He was awarded the Freshman Scholarship Cup after his first semester, the Forest Evashevski Scholarship his junior and senior year, and in 1971 he was named first-team academic All-Big Ten and second-team academic All-American — the same year he led the team in receiving with 28 catches for 428 yards.

He graduated with a history degree in 1972 and later joined Frank Lauterbur’s staff as a graduate assistant. The following year he left Iowa City, accepting a job teaching history and coaching football at Davenport Assumption. He spent four years at the prep level, two in Davenport and two at Sioux City Heelan, where he won the 1975 state championship.

In 1977 he returned to college, coaching tackles and tight ends at Iowa State, and in 1979 he began a 10-year stint as head coach at the University of South Dakota — all the while applying the principles he learned in Iowa City.

“The lifelong lessons I learned that people talked about in athletics — competition, willingness to prepare, willingness to commit yourself to a cause beyond yourself — those are all attributes and values that I took with me,” said Triplett.

He won 70 games and led South Dakota to the 1986 national title game before returning to the Iowa sidelines as an assistant coach for Hayden Fry in 1989.

“The lessons you bring back are timeless, too. That’s why it was so nice to come back. Even when I left I was always a Hawkeye fan. Even in the two years that I coached in Ames, that was a good opportunity to learn, I still thought of myself deep down as a Hawkeye.”

In his second year back on campus, Triplett helped Iowa reach the top of the Big Ten and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.

“Coaching alongside Coach Fry, back at the alma mater, Big Ten champs, that was all great stuff,” he said. “You couldn’t beat that. It was a real coalescence of my passion and career — my passion as a Hawkeye and my career as a football coach.”

His career on the sidelines ended in 1994. In 1995 he joined the UI Foundation and today, when he is not being introduced as Big Ten Medal of Honor winner Dave Triplett, he is UI Vice President for Development Resources. The 1972 medal sits on his desk and often serves as a reminder of the life he has fostered in Iowa City and the opportunity provided by the University of Iowa and the Big Ten Conference.

“I wanted to be a Hawkeye and I knew I wanted to be a history teacher and football coach,” said Triplett. “Iowa gave me those opportunities, and I was fortunate to have a great opportunity to come back here, back to my alma mater, and back to Iowa City, a great place to raise a family.”