The scene is too perfect.
That's because the Amherst College campus is too collegiate, the ambience too New England, the whole picture too Norman Rockwell. The grass is cut, and the flower beds are weeded. There is no trash. The sky is true blue.
And insofar as sports are concerned, things are perfect, or pretty close to it. "Sports fulfill the natural drive to test oneself against others," says Amherst president Tom Gerety. "It's our greatest ritual, short of war. I don't have much trouble justifying them, but that's only in this kind of setting. It seems everywhere else, sports are a distorting force."
This gloomy assessment about what Gerety calls an "uneasy alliance" between athletics and academics may be correct overall. But things look different for Amherst and its 10 Division III brethren—Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan and Williams—that make up the New England Small College Athletic-Conference (NESCAC).
NESCAC, founded 23 years ago, is as pure as college athletics get.
NESCAC firmly believes that athletics must be brought in line with academics, and not the other way around.
NESCAC stands above the fray.
Of course, NESCAC schools aren't very good in most sports.
But they are not very good only if you measure the Colby football team, for example, against Miami's; the Bates basketball team against Arkansas's. And such comparisons miss the point. As Bowdoin president Robert H. Edwards says, "If it's a choice between watching Division III athletics or turning on a television game, the question is, What are you looking for? You either want to experience the event and watch students giving their all, or you want to watch the game played at the very limits of human performance. Those are totally different things."
Claire Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College, is on the NCAA Presidents Commission. She stares out of the window onto her similarly too-perfect campus in New London and vows that her purpose on the commission is "to help bring our values to Division I." Gaudiani has been bloodied in her three years on the commission, but she still maintains her resolve. "The formula for what needs to be done in college sports lies in NESCAC," she says. "We have sports suffering and causing suffering on so many campuses. When you ask why the hell we are doing this, the answer is, It pays."