The one full-blown athletic scandal that has ever hit NESCAC involved recruiting. But unlike other conferences, in which schools go on and off probation, NESCAC promptly parted ways with Union College when the school was accused of off-campus recruiting in its quest for hockey players in 1977. Current Union athletic director Richard Sakala insists the school withdrew from the league and that the issue was Union's desire to play Division I hockey, but Wesleyan's Russell issues a sharp rebuke: "They were kicked out for cheating at hockey." Sakala does admit that there were recruiting irregularities but says it all worked out because Union is now happily playing Division I hockey. Still, he does say wistfully, "I think NESCAC represents the true spirit of college athletics."
NESCAC's manual consists of 19 pages; the NCAA's has 512. Says Gaudiani, "If you agree on a philosophy, you don't need a big rule book." There is further evidence of what can happen when institutions agree on a philosophy: Fourteen Williams varsity athletes have become Rhodes scholars; Bowdoin has had 10. (Northwestern has had none, Notre Dame and Rice one each and Stanford nine.)
Another difference between NESCAC and other conferences is the length of the football season. Other college football teams play as many as 13 games; NESCAC schools play only eight. "Eight is enough, honestly," says Middlebury football coach Mickey Heinecken. And the season has to be shorter because it doesn't start for NESCAC schools until classes are in session. No Kickoff Classics and the like in the dog days of August.
It shouldn't be surprising then that NESCAC also bans spring football. And speaking of spring, in baseball the limit is 20 games a season. "Why are some schools playing 70 baseball games a year?" asks Tufts coach John Casey. "I don't know. But I do know the players are not going to class."
But even NESCAC has its hint of controversy, and here it is: In a break with tradition. NESCAC teams are now being allowed to compete in NCAA Division III postseason championships. School presidents voted on April 7, 1993, to have a three-year trial period for such competition in all sports except football. Williams football co-captain Bobby Walker says he thinks excluding football is "very unfair to us. but I know they are concerned football will grow into what they fear most."
No NESCAC team has ever won an NCAA title, but last season 18 teams from eight NESCAC schools qualified for Division III postseason play. The men's tennis and golf teams at Williams qualified but were unable to compete because of conflicts with final exams. But once in a while, even in NESCAC, the competitive spirit gets the upper hand: Last year Wesleyan's baseball team missed graduation to play in the NCAA tournament.
Not a single NESCAC team makes money, but they all make sense.
Take, for example, Connecticut College. It has 25 sports and last year took in around $1,100 in athletic ticket revenue. The sports budget at the school is $830,000 out of a total school budget of $52.5 million.
Or consider Bates, with 27 intercollegiate and 12 club sports, activities that last year involved 61% of the student body. Bates charges admission to none of the games.
Contrast this with the typical big-college philosophy, under which football—with occasional help from basketball—must pay a hefty share of the bills. That raises the question: If sports support themselves, how can university administrators have control? The obvious answer: They can't.