NESCAC students come together at Middlebury

Representatives from four of the 11 NESCAC schools met Saturday at Middlebury College to discuss the NESCAC presidents’ decision to limit post season play and other issues that affect their campuses.

Williams, Amherst College, Hamilton College and Middlebury College sent representatives. The NESCAC student forum had met in November, with all schools except Bowdoin represented.

Since that time the NESCAC presidents’ decision regarding post season play has not changed.

“Are we at a standstill?” asked Stephanie Crumb of Middlebury at the beginning of the meeting.

Russ Riley, the Athletic Director at Middlebury College, helped to answer Crumb’s question.

“The presidents are guilty of acting too soon before the NCAA,” he said. The comment was in reference to the recent NCAA decision, which gives automatic tournament bids to conference champions. According to Riley, the second pool from which the NCAA will choose tournament teams will come from independent schools (i.e. those not affiliated with a conference). The last pool will be the “at-large” pool.

The main concern of the four schools represented at the meeting was that NESCAC schools would be likely to get those “at-large” bids.

According to Riley, “It is the hope of half of the NESCAC presidents that between now and 2001, there will be opportunity for the presidents to reconsider the one team limit.”

Earlier in the meeting, the attendees had made a list of those schools for the presidents’ new policy (Colby, Amherst, Wesleyan, Bates and Bowdoin) and those schools against the policy (Middlebury, Williams, Tufts, Trinity, Hamilton and Connecticut College).

Without saying specifically, Riley said the list was “about right.”

Steve Vladek, the Managing Sports Editor of The Amherst Student, summed up much of the students’ sentiment. “The one team limit is the biggest sticking point for everyone,” he said.

In fact, Riley implied that the Athletic Directors decided to take two years to schedule the different sport seasons with the hope that the presidents would reconsider.

“We could have implemented these schedules in a year’s time. We did this to buy time,” he said. “For the next two years, there will still be the opportunity for multiple teams to go to ECAC or NCAA tournament play.”

The attendees debated the pros and cons of making NESCAC more of a playing conference, with each team playing every team in the conference and with a NESCAC tournament deciding the conference champion.

Riley noted that the main concern for everyone was the issue of missed class time.“It will be difficult for Hamilton teams to play mid-week,” he said.

He then brought up the idea that NESCAC might be split into two divisions, to better accommodate the distance between, for example, Hamilton and Bowdoin.

According the Riley, the idea of a playing conference as it now stands mandates a NESCAC championship, which is expressly forbidden in NESCAC bylaws.

Some students felt that drastic actions needed to be taken to show the displeasure of this new decision. According to College Council co-president Bert Leatherman ’00, some Williams coaches have been contemplating sitting out NESCAC games as a sign of protest.

“What we’ve done thus far has been powerful but polite. Are we going to do this across the conference? This is a crucial day for us,” Leatherman said.

Jessica Stokes ’99, who, along with Leatherman, represented Williams at the conference, raised one objection to having NESCAC be a playing conference. “Under these new rules, individual games will become too competitive during the season and athletes would move their focus away from academics.”

Tom Grey, the president of Amherst’s Student Government Organization, said the faculty at Amherst are against this policy precisely because they believe there will be more competition because of it.

Jack Spangler, President of Hamilton’s Student Government Association, redirected the group’s sentiment after hearing from Riley.

“I think we should come out in favor of strong tournament play for each sport, and frame our demand in terms of us wanting the presidents to reconsider the one team limit,” Spangler said.

Riley agreed. “The more positive we approach this, the better the results.”

“We don’t want to act as though it is an ‘us against them’ situation,” said Leatherman.

Riley also noted that a NESCAC student activities council has been created.

From schools who were not at the conference

Bill Wilson, president of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, said the following of the student forum: “Having followed this issue for the last year and half now, I can tell you that there is both an awareness and a concern for these issues at Wesleyan, we just don’t happen to agree wholeheartedly with the other schools,” he said.

He continued, “Personally, I agree with the Presidents’ assessment of college athletics today, an institution way out of control. Many of the concerns that plague D-I schools are not a concern in D-III, though the potential for the athletic arms race and an escalating emphasis on sports are real concerns even in the NESCAC. While I don’t believe cutting post season opportunities are a solution to these potential problems, I also feel that student leaders are dismissing these concerns without enough thought.”

Wilson had his own view of making NESCAC a playing conference.

“I would recommend that Hamilton drop out of the NESCAC,” he said. “Without Hamilton, a playing conference would be feasible in all sports. Hamilton is geographically a poor partner for the NESCAC, teams have to make a five hour drive minimum to get there, and unlike the Maine schools, you can’t make a two game road trip out of your hike to upstate New York.”

Wilson noted the reason he did not attend the conference was the distance of Middlebury from Wesleyan. Concerning Wesleyan’s presence at the next forum, Wilson said, “We look forward to participating in the future, but don’t expect us to toe some party line just cause everyone else is jumping on the wagon.”

Steve Lee, president of Bowdoin’s student government, explained why Bowdoin did not attend either of the two NESCAC student fora. “We firmly believe that NESCAC athletes are entitled to compete at the highest possible levels, including national division III play,” he said.

He continued, “That said, we feel that the time and resources of student government are better served in working with the athletic departments, student athletes and administration in establishing a NESCAC playing conference and possible tournament. The NESCAC issue is done and any lobbying and student action on this issue should have been done last year. We see the positive elements of the new proposal and we do not want to burn bridges with our administration and compromise hard earned relationships and respect for contesting a decision, which we understand as final. We do not think continuing to debate this issue is a wise or efficient use of our time and resources.”

Vivek Ramgopa, who is currently the vice president of Tuft’s student senate, explained why Tufts did not attend the meeting. “It’s really hard to get to Middlebury from Boston,” he said. “In no means does it mean we are not active. I think that the forum is a great channel for a lot of us to get together and share things. I know that sounds cliched but just I think it is important for us to talk about broader issues that affect our campuses. In the future we are certainly going to be at them.”

Broader issues

At the end of the meeting, the participants began to discuss broader issues that affected their campuses. Items discussed included underage drinking, security, residential life and diversity on campus.

On the issue of underage drinking, Gray called Amherst, “A lawsuit waiting to happen.” He explained that 15 to 20 people are hospitalized per year as a result of drinking. He also said a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” exists between the administration and the students.

When the issue of diversity arose, Gray said the admissions office at Amherst is looking to make its in-coming classes more diverse. Leatherman mentioned the possibility at Williams of a queer intern and the recent week-long race forum.

When residential housing came up, the participants from Middlebury discussed their housing cluster system, a system not unlike the current proposal from the Williams House Presidents.

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