NESCAC student leaders to participate in athletic discussion at Middlebury

The debate over NESCAC’s decision to limit post-season competition may take on a new dimension Saturday as student delegates from the eleven colleges of the conference convene at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont.

This meeting of the NESCAC Student Forum will follow directly on the heels of this Thursday’s meeting of the Presidents of NESCAC and is likely to voice dissent if the Presidents refuse to alter the current policy.

Under the plan for the 1999-2000 athletic season, a NESCAC committee will offer a single team from each team sport automatic qualification to a post-season tournament. A certain number of at-large bids will be available depending on the sport, but those spaces will be eliminated over the next three years.

Bert Leatherman,College Council co-president, has served as an active participant in the formation of the student forum, which held its first meeting in November, 1998 at Amherst College. The Forum has voiced concern over the negative implications of the new policy, including pressure on varsity teams during the regular season and pressure on admission offices to accept talented athletes.

While NESCAC’s Mission Statement avows a commitment “first and foremost to academic excellence,” there is worry among the students that an increase in competition among colleges could jeopardize that excellence.

Uncertain that the Presidents would initiate any change of policy at their April 22 meeting, Leatherman characterized the upcoming forum as “an opportunity for students to organize more vocal response.”

Having helped initiate publications in the Alumni Review, flyers at the Williams-Amherst basketball game and an extensive letter-writing campaign, Leatherman voiced his conviction that “the Presidents are well aware of our unity” on the need for a change of policy.

However, he emphasized the continuing need to raise awareness on other campuses.

Since Williams’ athletic programs have much to gain from a change that would allow teams to accept open bids to competition, it is critical that public opinion at colleges like Bates, Tufts and Colby supports a change in the current system, noted Leatherman.

Leatherman attested that great progress has been made in increasing understanding of the issue, through both the forum and ongoing e-mail correspondence. In addition, he noted the forum will meet on a semi-annual basis to address a broader range of issues, including party policy and financial aid practices, which concern the colleges of NESCAC.

While the current debate has absorbed the attention of the Student Forum, it will hopefully provide an atmosphere for information and dialogue well into the future.

Responding to a suggestion that frustration over NESCAC’s decision has diminished on campus, Leatherman asserted that the issue remains on the minds of many, especially student athletes.

Kathleen Higgins, co-captain of the women’s basketball team, confirmed this idea.

She noted that limiting participation in post-season play could seriously harm the quality of competition at both the New England and national levels. “Williams is an institution established on the principles of high achievement. I believe it is contradictory to put a cap on the level of achievement that athletes can reach.”

Having pursued numerous avenues of protest and persuasion, the NESCAC Student Forum can now only wait now to react to the meeting of the Presidents.

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