NESCAC presidents vote to change conference bid policy

On Sept. 20, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) presidents addressed a number of issues including the structure of league tournaments and the acceptance of NCAA at-large tournament bids for the 2001-2002 academic year.

The presidents voted to allow teams to accept at-large bids for this academic year, although the policy will be re-evaluated at the end of the school year to determine its effectiveness and possible extension. The policy is a reversal of a spring 2001 decision that prevented teams from accepting at-large bids.

The reversal is generally viewed as beneficial to NESCAC teams, which would otherwise be prevented from attending national tournaments without winning the NESCAC’s end of season tournament. Last year’s men’s soccer team, for example, would have been prevented from attending the national tournament after losing to Middlebury in the NESCAC finals, though it was ranked number one in the nation for the rest of the year.

In another victory for NESCAC’s student-athletes, the presidents also approved a plan, recommended by the league’s athletic directors, to eliminate mid-week tournament games from the NESCAC tournaments.

Historically, the mid-week games have hindered students’ ability to study for exams, which generally fall around the same time as season-ending tournaments.

For much of its history, the NESCAC did not allow its member schools to participate in NCAA national tournaments. In 1994, however, NESCAC teams were allowed, for the first time, to attend the competitions. This policy remained in effect until last spring when the NESCAC presidents voted to revise the rules so that only NESCAC champion teams could accept NCAA berths – at-large bids could not be accepted by other programs. Competitors in individual sports have never been prevented from attending NCAA events.

Harry Sheehy, director of athletics, and President Schapiro both supported a change in league policy, even as other school presidents may have expressed reserve. President Schapiro was out of town and not available for comment on the changes, but Sheehy had only praise for the decisions and for Schapiro.

“The [NESCAC] Presidents may have wavered,” Sheehy said, “but Morty hasn’t.”

However, Sheehy said, the issue is not as much whether at-large bids may be accepted by Williams’ teams, but rather whether or not it is a valuable and necessary experience for the school’s athletes.

“We should be going to national tournaments if there’s experiential, educational value in going,” Sheehy explained.

And while the decision is only temporary, Sheehy said that eventually the league will have to make a final policy concerning NESCAC bids to NCAA tournaments. However, the direction the league goes may be largely in the hands of its athletes. “I think the decision [to accept at-large bids] makes total sense,” Sheehy said. “I do think at some point the league has to decide if the post season is an educational experience. . .if students feel there is educational value and express that, then [the NESCAC] should keep at-large bids.” As much as Schapiro and Sheehy may support the policy, it is up to the athletes to prove that it is a worthwhile endeavor for the President and the director to support.

Also effective immediately after the Presidents’ meeting was a decision to limit mid-week tournament play for all NESCAC teams except men and women’s basketball.

Dick Quinn, director of Sports Information, said that one reason mid-week play was eliminated was to help ease the burden of traveling for tournaments and also studying for exams. Unlike Williams, Quinn said, many NESCAC schools have exams earlier, thus creating a larger conflict between exam period and tournament play.

“I support [the elimination of] mid- week play,” Sheehy said. “In a league like NESCAC which is ‘academics first’, it didn’t make sense to send a team three to five hours on a bus.” Sheehy also mentioned that it did not appear that Williams teams would be adversely impacted by the change in scheduling, although he did not know the status of what mid-week games had been rescheduled.

Basketball is an exception to the rule, Sheehy explained, because the tournament runs for three days, which, if played on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, may be even more detrimental to academics than a mid-week game.

Sheehy said that discussion has always arisen in regards to eliminating mid-week regular season play, but that the task is almost impossible given the short number of weekends in each season.

Men’s soccer, for instance, can play 21 games under NCAA regulations, but is limited to only 14 in NESCAC. Quinn added that many of the mid-week games of varsity teams are played against outside opponents who are geographically closer than other NESCAC teams. Thus, the most important and farther games are generally played on weekends.