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CNN Forecast - Middlebury, VT

Student leaders convene to discuss NESCAC college athletics

By Megan Mabee

Last weekend, students representing 10 of the 11 schools that make up the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) convened at Amherst College to discuss the decision made in April to limit post-season play within a given championship to one team.

The conference was initiated by students at Amherst and Williams, displeased with the April decision, through a joint article written in their campus newspapers. Organizers saw the forum as a way to bring together student government leaders, editors of school newspapers and athletes from the NESCAC schools to determine which aspects of the ruling they supported.

The conference participants reaffirmed two of the three aspects of the decision: that NESCAC will have conference standing, which would increase its competitiveness as a playing conference, and that a conference administrator will be appointed to serve as a watchdog for the organization.

The conference members disagreed with the ruling limiting NCAA post-season participation to one team, however, and resolved to raise support on their respective campuses to continue the tradition of unlimited participation. In addition, conference participants drafted a letter outlining their stance on the ruling which will be presented to their respective college communities for approval before being sent to the NESCAC presidents in the hope that they will reconsider voting again on the ruling.

"It was great to see the dynamics of how the student government leaders interacted with the athletes and how leaders from different schools interacted with each other, especially since we're rivals in terms of admissions, scholarships and athletics," said Stephanie Crumb '00, SGA Secretary of Student/ Alumni Relations. "The success of the conference was to bring the leaders of the different schools together to work on a common issue."

Many NESCAC presidents are concerned that academics will be jeopardized if teams are allowed to participate in the NCAAs, which encompass colleges and universities that place a greater emphasis on athletics than on academics. In contrast, NESCAC is committed to striking a balance between the two disciplines.

While the NESCAC schools share the same goal to preserve post-season play, there are varying levels of support for the decision at each of the different colleges. Many student government leaders plan to form advocacy groups on campus to persuade the president, student body and alumni to reconsider their stance on post-season play.

"It seems as if the NESCAC board was rushed into a compromise, and that people will re-look at the decision," said SGA President John Felton '99. "[However], it will take a lot of work at the other name schools to convince their presidents, trustees and other people on campus."

As President John McCardell is in favor of post-season play, Crumb sees no need to establish an advocacy group on campus. She and Felton plan to work with the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, as well as team captains, to make sure that varsity athletes at Middlebury are aware of where they stand in light of the NESCAC ruling.

A NESCAC student advisory forum, which will consist of two representatives from each member school, will also be established. This forum will meet once or twice per year to discuss NESCAC issues.

"I hope that one's not restricted to the NESCAC conference to go on to the NCAA," asserted Crumb. "[We feel that] a better compromise can be reached."

The decision was made by the NESCAC board, which is made up of the presidents of the 11 member schools. As the ruling will not go into effect for another two years, there is still room for negotiation.

"The position last spring was a compromise between a slight majority and a sizable minority that supported maintaining the status quo," explained President John McCardell. "I expect we'll discover that any simplistic approach to the issue will be reconsidered."

As the NESCAC presidency rotates among the 11 college presidents every year, McCardell's term will begin this January and last for 18 months, due the fact that Amherst's president is going on sabbatical.

NCAA post-season play was originally permitted in 1993 as an experiment that would take place over a three-year trial period. This contract was renewed for an additional three years in 1996, and again in 1998, to give the colleges more time to evaluate the issue.

Previously, only individual athletes were allowed to participate in NCAA tournaments, while teams were restricted to ECAC tournaments, which were primarily for colleges that didn't qualify for the NCAAs. Since Middlebury teams have participated in the NCAA Division III tournaments, they have enjoyed considerable success as demonstrated by four consecutive championships in men's ice hockey, as well as titles for women's lacrosse and field hockey.

As many of the best teams in the New England region are NESCAC schools, according to Director of Athletics Russ Reilly, limiting NCAA participation to one school decreases the level of competition at the national championships. In addition, it would drastically reduce the number of qualified teams that would be able to participate in the NCAAs.

Reilly said that selecting only one team to advance to the NCAA tournament would make the NESCAC conference "almost too competitive," as schools would be less supportive of each other, being tempted to bend the rules of the game and viewing the spirit of competition in a more negative light.

"I'm concerned as to what this [decision] does to the collegiality of the schools in the conference," Reilly admitted.

"Success doesn't have to be mutually exclusive," Reilly continued. "Great students can also be successful, and get an education for life, outside of the classroom."

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All material copyright 1998 The Middlebury Campus.