What makes NESCAC so special?
Simply, it is that the members put things academic ahead of things athletic. Eva Cahalan, a former soccer and lacrosse player at Connecticut College who now works for Prudential Securities, says, "You come to college to get an education, not to play sports. Here is a perfect example of the two working together."
But the NESCAC philosophy is to consider sports a part of that education, and in keeping with that, there are occasional special admissions considerations for an athlete, just as there are for a musician. "The sweatiest of the liberal arts" is how Amherst's Gerety describes athletics. "Be it poetry, acting, philosophy or athletics, any youngster has more to give than what is called for in a traditional class," he says. So justifying sports is not a problem.
Given that credo, NESCAC schools adhere to some basic guidelines. They follow the letter of Division III rules and give no athletic scholarships. Then they go the spirit of the rules one better and do not try to slip a few desired athletes in with academic or need-based scholarships. Of course, NESCAC athletes are free to apply for financial aid along with every other student, but with no help from the athletic department. Says Bowdoin AD Sid Watson, "We can't tell a kid how much financial aid he's going to get, because we don't know ourselves." No wonder Don Miller, Trinity's football coach since 1967, says, "We play the only amateur football left."
The Williams football team gathers in the locker room before playing Bowdoin. The ambience of the locker room is perfect testimony to the NESCAC philosophy, which puts academics on a lofty perch and makes athletics an adjunct.
In other words, the place is a dump.
It's way too small for all these bodies. The tile ceiling is ringed with water damage caused by a leaky roof; nine ceiling tiles are missing, and four more are hanging on in acts of faith. The walls are painted a sickly green.
But that doesn't matter. The players act like players anywhere. The quarterback coach, Dave Caputi, reminds the team that Williams has lost only five times over the last six years. "That's a legacy passed on to you," he says. "You've got to step up and rise to tradition. We don't make mistakes when we wear this uniform." Coach Dick Farley—who in moments of despair informs his charges, "If you can't play here, you can't play, because there is no Division IV"—hollers, "Our family can beat their team."
He got that right. Williams triumphs 42-6. Immediately Farley gathers his players at midfield—and rips them: "O.K., go out tonight and pretend you had a good game. Then come back and be ready to work. You play like this next week, and you'll be embarrassed." Brian Gugliotta, who rushed for 128 yards, shrugs, saying, "Everybody takes what he says with a grain of salt."
NESCAC members have all agreed to do no off-campus recruiting. That's by far the most stringent recruiting rule in the land. Coaches can make phone calls and write letters and ask prospective student-athletes to visit the campus—the way any other student would look over a college. But there are no home visits, no recruiting trips to high schools, no recruiting calls. "All colleges should do this." says Middlebury basketball coach Russell Reilly. "It eliminates the opportunity for indiscretion." Generally, NESCAC schools give prospective athletes a ticket good for lunch in the school cafeteria, just as they do all prospective students.