Schools come to terms with NESCAC changes; campus debate ensues

Following the announcement of the new NESCAC policy on the NCAA, further dialogue between the administration and the Athletic Department has occurred. Dialogue has been more limited at other NESCAC schools, but coaches and students alike are coming to terms with the decision.

At Williams

President of the College Harry C. Payne addressed the coaches on Monday. Afterwards, most coaches were still disappointed, but many began considering the reality of the decision.

“I don’t think our feelings have really changed,” Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Bill Kangas said. Kangas cited the extra pressure on admissions, recruiting and the camaraderie of NESCAC. Yet, Kangas said he is considering the ramifications of the decision.

“It took us all by surprise and where we’re going to go with it nobody knows right now. Is there something we can do with it to make it a positive?” he questioned. Kangas said the NESCAC ice hockey coaches met in Florida this weekend, and discussed the logistics of creating a NESCAC conference. “We’ve got to find ways to make it work,” he said.

Head Coach of Women’s Volleyball and Basketball Pat Manning said she is encouraged by the student response to the issue. “I was at the College Council meeting and I’m happy with the way that students are responding. It’s encouraging to see that students are getting involved with it.” She said she had expected less involvement during the hectic spring term.

“I think student support is very helpful, that and alumni support,” Men’s Soccer Coach Mike Russo said. Russo said the meeting gave him a better appreciation of Payne’s position. “I think he supported the policy—in fairness to him—of all teams being able to go. I guess others weren’t so disposed, so he was unable to sway them,” Russo said. “He told us it was a compromise. I respect his opinion and what he’s tried to do.”

“I think he’s willing to listen,” Russo added.

Many coaches and athletes said the new policy would increase the pressure on Admissions. Dean of Admissions Philip Smith said he recently consulted with Director of Admissions Thomas Parker on the policy and its effects.

Smith agreed the new policy would increase the pressure on admissions. “It’s only going to add pressure to admit more excellent athletes,” he said. “It can only exacerbate the pressure on admissions and push it in unhealthy ways. I don’t see any upside and I see a lot of downside.”

Smith said the policy might diminish the number of applicants. “Whether it will change the dynamics of candidate’s choices, I’m not sure,” he said. “The five years of open access have increased the desirability. Students really like the opportunity to take an activity to its logical limit.”

However, Smith said admissions will not allow the pressure to lower its selectiveness. “Will we change our policy vis-a-vis admitting athletes? No.”

In the face of attacks from all sides, Payne said he stands behind the decision.

Payne said he understands the opposition of players and coaches. “Our reversion (to limited NCAA access) is experienced as a take-away, as a retraction of opportunity. It’s natural at least immediately after this decision to react negatively.”

“I have great sympathy with our coaches, and I have some sympathy with their view that open invitation would be preferable and less pressured,” Payne said. “This is not the system I would have designed.”

Yet, Payne continued to defend the new system. “Pressure is part of sports…. This new arrangement may or may not increase pressure, but it seems tolerable to me—unless going to Nationals has become the definition of success,” he said. He stated again the NESCAC playing conference could be fun, and support may be more widespread, “The voices that aren’t being heard are the faculty, many of whom would think it positive,” he said.

Regardless of his personal opinion, Payne said he is committed to upholding the decision. “I view it as my job to remind people of the positives, of how far we’ve come since 1993, of our collegial commitment to make it work,” he said. “I guess I have to preach a certain kind of patience. I’m preaching the long view.” The presidents will discuss the issue again at their meeting in September.

Before the fall meeting, however, other NESCAC presidents will continue to have debate on their campuses.

Connecticut College

According to two coaches at Connecticut College, the issue has not been addressed at all. “We haven’t had a department meeting or talked about it at this point,” Conn. College’s Coach of Women’s Field Hockey and Lacrosse Anne Parmenter said. “We haven’t even discussed it as a group of coaches or anything.” She said students have not raised the issue, most likely because it is the last week of classes. “I’m sure it will become a discussion point.”

“We haven’t even met as a group yet to formulate what happened,” Men’s Lacrosse Coach and Assistant Athletic Director at Conn College Fran Shields echoed. Shields said the agreement seems open to interpretation. “I think it’s been left open-ended by the presidents. The presidents’ wording said they need advising from the Athletic Departments,” he said. Shields noted the vague language surrounding the continuation of the ECAC, and said this could be interpreted to stand for the continuation of post-season play.

Shields said he sees advantages to the new policy. “I’m definitely in favor of NESCAC forming a playing conference… I would love to see a men’s lacrosse conference that plays.”

Bowdoin College

The atmosphere on the Bowdoin campus is equally calm, according to Men’s Basketball and Soccer Coach Tim Gilbride. “I’m not sure how much turmoil [among the students] there is…. I don’t sense that it’s strong enough that there has been a meeting.”

Gilbride speculated, however, that most dislike the arrangement. “My general sense is that people are disappointed,” he noted. “Every time a team has worked hard, I hate to see them not have the opportunity to go to the post-season.” Gilbride refuted the suggestion that the Maine schools would benefit from the emphasis on inter-conference play, because other NESCAC teams would have to travel to play them. “We play a pretty complete schedule, so it’s not like it’s going to benefit us at all,” he said.

Amherst

The Amherst Student, Amherst’s weekly newspaper published an article on the decision, but otherwise the discussion on their campus has also been limited. “Really nothing has happened,” Bill Hickson, the Amherst Men’s Basketball Coach, said. “[The athletic department] haven’t had a discussion with him [the president] yet,” he said. “For students to become active over it, it’s not the right time of year.”

Yet, Hickson characterized the initial murmurs as negative. “I think people are upset. They see it as taking the wrong direction,” he said. “We feel that by limiting it to only one person going you’re going to ratchet up the intensity of the competition.”

Hickson added, “It was poorly thought out. We think it’s directly opposite from what their intention was.”

Hickson expressed hope that the decision can be modified. “We work with the president. We work with the trustees. We have our students write letters,” he said.

Middlebury College

At Middlebury College, more emotion has been stirred. “The kids are very upset. There’s been a lot of dialogue within the student body,” Head Coach of Middlebury Women’s Soccer and Basketball Jennifer Fulcher said. “I think that Middlebury and Williams are going to have similar reactions because they’ve both had a taste at the national level,” she said.

As debate and dialogue continues at Williams and
spreads around the NESCAC, the end result remains to be seen.

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