The once laid-back (literally) NESCAC culture

By H. Jay Burns, Managing Editor

President Hansen’s column (pg. 12) and a story on the athletics liaison program (pg. 14) both touch on
a much-discussed topic among the New England Small College Athletic Conference schools. Has a jones for winning disrupted the balance between sports and academics on these small campuses?

H. Jay Burns, Managing Editor

NESCAC is the dominant conference in NCAA Division III. From fall 2001 through fall 2003, NESCAC schools have won 15 national championships. In 2002-03, conference schools posted 34 top-10 finishes in national championships. All while offering around 30 sports for men and women, far more than your USCs or LSUs.

Once, achieving broad athletics participation and winning national championships was an eating cake/having cake proposition. Doing both didn’t seem possible.

“Our philosophy at Bates [is] different from the college that has gone all out for a super hockey team,” then-Director of Athletics Bob Hatch told Bryant Gumbel ’70 during a 1977 Alumnus interview. “Our emphasis has been to cover a variety of sports, but not to put strong emphasis on any one of them.” He added, “If we can break even and still serve a large number of students, we’re developing a philosophy we can live with.”

Which jibes with my memories of playing baseball for another NESCAC college. An obsession with winning wasn’t the problem; we were too busy keeping our pitchers from fainting. One game, our leftie was bouncing the ball off the plate every few pitches, so I called time. Mask perched atop my helmet like Carlton Fisk, I ambled out to the mound trying to imitate Fisk’s incongruously gentle stride. (He walked to the mound with the urgency of a fat man taking a morning walk on the beach.)

“Do you have a candy bar or something?” the pitcher asked when I finally crossed the 60 feet between plate and mound. “I didn’t eat and I’m kinda shaky.”

Forget “cowboy up.” Late one game during our Florida trip, our coach screamed at the bullpen staff. A blown save wasn’t the problem; what was a concern was that the staff was lying down in foul territory along the right-field line, soaking up the rays.

Still, we were competitive. After a rough first year we won about half our games in the next two seasons. Like betting at the track, breaking even can be as fulfilling as winning. For us, it was great; I don’t even think we knew how the other teams in the conference did.

H. Jay Burns, Managing Editor