Forum discusses general NESCAC dissatisfaction

Approximately 20 members of the College community, consisting of students and coaches, discussed the recently announced NESCAC decision on the NCAA in an open forum.

The majority of opinions expressed reflected a general discontent with the present policy and led to a recognized desire to change the existing rules.

The forum commenced after the College Council meeting on Thursday, moderated by CC Co-Presidents Will Slocum ’99 and Kate Ervin ’99.

Slocum began by saying “[The new policy] is a compromise that doesn’t solve anything.” He then introduced “special guests” who voiced their insights on the new policy. These guests were Dan Bullock ’98, Lauren Gioia ’98, Alana Teutonico ’98, Men’s Basketball Coach Harry Sheehey and Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Manning.

Bullock noted the “big discrepancies” in the new system. “We should have a system where a team that deserves to go to NCAA competition can go. This new policy increases pressure on students, coaches and admissions. It becomes an all-or-nothing situation because teams judge their seasons on whether or not they make nationals.”

Bullock then mentioned what he would like to see. “We should maintain NESCAC participation and leave it open for teams to get NCAA bids. The only argument against that system is that there is an increased number of academic conflicts, but I don’t see how that in reality is a huge problem.”

Sheehey gave his perspective as a coach. “One of the reasons I love to coach is that I realize that young people handle their varying experiences. Why are we being so protective of our student athletes? We should allow them to be able to make decisions.”

He continued, “If the NCAA is evil incarnate, then let’s bag it. If it’s valuable why is only one team allowed entrance? I don’t see what constituency this is good for. NCAA participation lets the rest of the country see our students. If we limit NCAA participation, then the rest of the country is losing out. NCAAs are a wonderful advertisement for the way we do things here.”

Teutonico saw only negatives in the new policy. “I don’t see how this is beneficial. It puts more stress on athletes: if you drop one game, the season might be over,” she said. “Now we will have to make two or three trips to Maine and that certainly doesn’t help our academics.

“There is also a value to ECACs [the Eastern Colleges Athletic Conference championships], and I don’t see at all why they are getting rid of it. As an athlete, I don’t know what it’s like to play without a post season,” Teutonico added. “It’s also putting limitations on our coaches and how far they can go. We don’t put limits on our professors, why are we doing it to our coaches?”

Manning voiced similar objections to the new policy. She said she did not understand where the policy came from at all.

Gioia expressed her reservations. “What bothers me most about this decision is that I have no idea where it came from. This is not at all what anyone ever discussed; no one wanted the pressure of only one team going to NCAAs. This decision weakens the national tournament and it weakens New England’s position.”

CC Secretary Bert Leatherman ’00 questioned whether withdrawing from NESCAC was an option.

In response, Sheehey responded, “I’d like to investigate things. It is very hard to form a conference. There are a lot of questions of scheduling. Also the rivalries in NESCAC are strong. It is in our best interests to make NESCAC work, but some schools have thumbed their noses at us.”

He continued, “Athletes are consumers. If I had a son or a daughter, I wouldn’t want my child being restricted in his or her opportunities.

“[Director of Athletics] Bob Peck has put together a great staff. If we were to restrict the academic faculty, there would be a revolution. Are there conflicts of time? Absolutely. Are there conflicts of purpose? Absolutely not.”

After these comments by the guest speakers, the focus of the forum shifted to possible alternatives to the current policy.

Ervin said a listserver was established among student government organizations at different NESCAC schools. She noted that other schools were mobilizing, and the issue was not limited to Williams.

Bullock highlighted the necessity of getting other schools involved. “If we don’t get other schools involved, this can be seen as just a Williams issue.”

All present at the forum decided swift action was necessary as final examinations are approaching for all schools.

Jim Frew ’99 mentioned alumni involvement would be beneficial. Manning said CC should also contact the trustees.

Other ideas included sending out an all-campus email or circulating a petition. CC representative Sam Young ’98 said this was an issue non-athletes must get involved in.

Julian Fang ’01 echoed similar sentiments, “This decision affects a lot of stuff: academics, admissions and financial aid. Williams will not be the only school that will face these problems.”

After the meeting, Leatherman said 14 students have formed a committee whose aim is to change the policy. This committee is divided into five subcommittees. Each is in charge of a separate task: publicity, getting in touch with parents of athletes, alumni and trustee contacts, contacting other campuses, and circulating a petition on this campus.

Leatherman said he has not heard any students who were in favor of the new policy. “I have heard from people who don’t give two hoots about sports and even if I did hear from those in favor of the policy, they would be in the small minority and I would stick to the position we have.”

Leatherman is optimistic about the possibility of change. “President [of the College Harry C.] Payne offered to meet with me, Kate and Will at some point this week. I think that’s a good sign. I also know that Bob Peck was real pleased with the forum and he has given his support to what we are doing.”

Ervin said, “I think the forum was very successful. Our goal while organizing it was to bring together members of the College community to discuss the new NCAA policy, and put together a statement of the community’s sentiment to send to President Payne and other NESCAC Presidents.”

Ervin said there was a strong response from the student body when the news came out.

“We felt it was our responsibility as the College Council to organize and represent these views,” she said. “During the forum, however, we found that the interest in changing the new policy was so great that students wanted to be even more proactive.”

As a result, Ervin said the CC has organized several committees comprised of athletes and non-athletes alike who will be working in areas ranging from gathering student support in a petition drive to contacting alumni and Trustees about the matter.

Slocum said the committees would “welcome any more student support. All those interested, please contact us at our new listserver, ncaa@wso.williams.edu. We will all meet sometime early this week to discuss our plan of action.”