Most of the schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference are recognized as being among the finest in the nation. As students of these schools, we like to count ourselves among the best students in the nation. NESCAC schools, and Williams in particular, also pride themselves on their athletic excellence.
The philosophy of NESCAC has always been to keep athletics and academics in the proper perspective. Originally, our teams were not allowed to participate in NCAA post-season competition. However, six years ago the presidents of the NESCAC schools embarked on an experiment with post-season play. We realized that NCAA competition is exciting and fun. We found we had even more reason to be proud of our teams’ accomplishments. Now, at the end of that six-year experiment, we have a new model for post-season competition in the NESCAC: team competition is allowed, but only the conference champion will be allowed to participate.
This new model is highly unsatisfactory. The question the NESCAC presidents should have, and did not address is whether or not NCAA competition leads to a dilution of the academic excellence we are committed to keeping as our top priority.
Surely this was a troubling question when the NCAA experiment began. Post-season competition at a national level could result in unhealthy athletic pressure. President Payne described some of the worrisome potential results as, “The pressure to measure the success of a team solely in terms of post-season achievement, the pressure on admissions offices to make greater accommodations for promising prospective athletes, the pressure to manipulate schedules to meet expectations of NCAA committees.” If such pressures actually result from NCAA competition, if athletics have begun to take priority over academics due to post-season competition, it should be eliminated.
If, however, these pressures are not significant, if we can enjoy the excitement of NCAA play without diminishing the NESCAC’s professed commitment to academics, we should continue to allow competition without restriction.
Our objection to the presidents’ decision is that on the one question that matters, they made not decision at all. Any negative pressures that might have previously resulted from NCAA competition will not be eliminated at all. Tournament play will continue to be every bit as important. The only difference we can see is that pressure on teams will actually increase. Every game, and especially conference games, will now be of much greater importance, since only the conference champion will have the opportunity to compete at a national level. How have we shifted the focus from athletics back to academics?
We have made a meaningless compromise, which, by restricting NCAA competition satisfies no one. Post-season play is restricted, but the unhealthy pressures that result from post-season play are not.
We at the Record enjoy NCAA competition. We like to watch our teams win, and if we can be national champions, that’s legitimate reason to cheer. If we continue to allow post-season competition, we should not restrict it the conference champion. If the satisfaction of national athletic success comes at the expense of our stated goal of academic excellence, however, it is a satisfaction we need to forego.
Either NCAA competition leads to an intolerable prioritizing of athletics or it does not. If we want to continue NCAA competition, we should continue it unrestrictedly. As it stands, the new model for post-season play penalizes teams unnecessarily without benefiting anyone. Restricted NCAA competition is no solution at all.