Reflections and Thoughts on NESCAC Sports

Our all-time favorite picture of NESCAC sports, and there have been a lot of great ones.
Our all-time favorite photo of NESCAC sports, and there have been a lot of great ones.

Adam wrote the following good bye, and in classic fashion, it’s plenty wordy for both of us, and I agree with everything he wrote, so I’ll say my piece in two sentences. Nothing but NESCAC has been a tremendous source of pride, frustration, stress, happiness, controversy, procrastination, relationships, blood, sweat and tears (okay, I’m exaggerating – slightly), late nights, early mornings, conversation starters, angry Facebook messages and aggressive emails, and, above all, learning. If you’re reading this, thank you. – Joe MacDonald

I graduated last Saturday from Bowdoin. That fact has not really sunk in, but it’s an inescapable reality. As I say goodbye to my physical home for the past four years, I wanted to write some thoughts down about my experiences with Nothing but NESCAC and general thoughts about NESCAC sports. Consider this an open diary entry, and remember that all thoughts are my own, so you can take them with a giant grain of salt.

First, I want to thank everyone who has helped make this website possible. Thanks to the readers and people that told us how much they appreciated what we were doing. Hearing from people that they enjoyed our work was so rewarding. I especially loved to hear from players that they were reading us, even if they thought that our opinions were garbage. Another special shoutout to the members of the NESCAC DIII Boards. Knowing that the most rabid fans in the NESCAC respected our opinions – sometimes – was nice.

Thanks to all the players and coaches who let us talk to them. Those interactions made the writing so much better. The work that all NESCAC coaches and players put in behind the scenes for their sport is remarkable, but the best thing about everyone that I got to talk to was how nice everybody always was. NESCAC sports are filled with great people.

Thanks to Damon Hatheway and Jeff Hetzel for creating PantherNation and serving as our inspiration for Nothing but NESCAC. Being able to get started writing for you was the best possible way to wet our feet. You set the bar high in terms of quality NESCAC sports writing, and I think that we were at least able to approach that level at times.

Thanks to all of the writers, from the ones who wrote just one time to those that wrote as much as we did. The website would not have been what it was if not for all of you – Chad Martin, Colby Morris, Colin Tiernan, Connor Colombo, Dave Peck, Josh Moss, Nate Courville, Oliver Goodman, Pat English, Rob Erickson and Sean Meekins. You guys were never under any type of obligation to write for us, but you did anyways because you had a genuine interest in the same stuff we did. An even bigger thanks to some of our MVPs. Carson Kenney was a huge asset for us last year, writing articles, competing in fantasy football and basketball, and serving as an ear on the ground at Trinity. Even this year, as he was working in the Trinity Athletic Department, he was always happy to help out when possible. Pete Lindholm has been there since the start of NbN, and has always brought a unique style to our pages. No one writes quite like Pete, and eventually we learned that it was futile to expect his work to come back to us with the format or tone that we asked for, but usually it was far superior than anything we could have done. This year, three new contributors jumped on board with a previously unseen eagerness. Nick DiBenedetto accepted every assignment thrown his way, and though “deadlines” seem to be a fluid concept to him, we loved him for it. Kaitlin McCabe came on board last fall, but she really shouldered the load for us this spring as Joe was in season and I suffered from a severe case of senioritis. Kaitlin has just graduated from Hamilton and will be working in sports journalism. Lastly, Rory Ziomek, a baseball player from Tufts, was always there for us this year, so much so that we feel confident in handing Rory the keys to NbN next year. Joe and I both will miss our interactions with these people, who are truly incredible, like all NESCAC students and student-athletes, at everything they do.

And finally, a huge thanks to my partner in crime, Joe MacDonald. There is no one else that I would have ever wanted to do this with. When I approached you with the idea of doing this, you were smart enough to make me pump the brakes and think through completely how we could actually do this. That was just the first time that you saved my butt from my terrible decision-making. I remember when I heard that you were going to spend junior fall abroad in Australia being upset because I thought you weren’t going to do anything for NbN. Instead, you did as much as I could have asked for, even though you were having the time of your life halfway around the world. I always infuriated you with my refusal to use standard grammar and a tendency to not finish sentences in my writing. All the best ideas for the site came from you. Thanks for letting me come along for the ride.

People call me cynical, so I’ll include some negatives. I have a lot of regrets concerning the website. I wish that the site had been able to grow more and to cover more sports than just the three on which we focused. Such a project would have necessitated many more writers, as Joe and I certainly did not have the time to devote learning about other sports. We concentrated on the few sports we did because we felt otherwise our writing would not add anything of value. I hope that in the future more students with deep interests in other sports will decide to be part of NbN.

I wish that I had done more research and reached out to coaches and players more than I did. Lack of preparation and sometimes social anxiety too often made me not want to go out on a limb and ask somebody to talk, but whenever I did it was very rewarding.

We were always terrible about getting out articles on time for them to be relevant, and I always would feel bad on Monday when I hadn’t done the Stock Report like I was supposed to. Being a college student with plenty of other things going on made it so that the website would be something that I would put on the backburner at times.

There were a lot of articles that I wish that I had undertaken which would have required much more legwork on my end. There are a lot of things related to NESCAC sports that require a different approach than what the student newspapers are capable of, but I never quite got around to doing them. I would have loved to examine the demographics of NESCAC athletes a little bit. This lack of research made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good enough job of presenting the stories that you can’t understand from just watching the games and looking at game recaps.

Despite all those regrets, I look back with immense pride at everything that we were able to accomplish over the past two and a half years. I’m also so excited that there is a plan in place for next year when Joe and I will be doing other things besides obsessing over DIII athletics.

Doing this was not easy, but it was a ton of fun and a little addicting. Knowing that some people actually cared about what we wrote was a little scary, and we tried our best to not let those people down. I also got really invested in Bowdoin teams because of it, with basketball being the one sport that I went above and beyond in my fanhood. I meant to write a long piece after the end of basketball season ended detailing my love for the team and why I fell so hard for NESCAC basketball, but I never got around to that. So I’ll write just a little about the team that I rooted harder for than any other.

I didn’t really discover the basketball team until the beginning of sophomore year. I went with a bunch of friends to a meaningless November non-conference game against St. Joseph’s. This was my sophomore year, the beginning of the 2013-2014 regular season when Lucas Hausman ’16 was nothing more than a reserve guard fighting for playing time behind an experience starting backcourt. The game was a 69-65 Bowdoin win and Hausman scored 19 points, though that would end up being his season high. The win took place in front of a few hundred people, and I along with some friends was one of the few students in attendance.

However, the attractions of a NESCAC home game were apparent to me even then. First of all, the lack of fans was a downside because of the bad atmosphere, but it did allow us to easily sit courtside. That ability to sit so close to the game meant it was possible for us to have an outsized effect on it, and I made sure to be as loud as possible at any games. The second thing that got me hooked was just the quality of play that I was only able to appreciate up close. NESCAC basketball players are really good. Like, really good. The success of Duncan Robinson at Michigan and all the players that have successful runs overseas prove that, but people still don’t realize it. The quality of the players made the games FUN to watch. Thanks to Lucas Hausman, Matt Palecki and Jake Donnelly for four years of great basketball.

There were a lot of great moments that I was able to watch in Morrell Gym, but my favorite was junior year when Bowdoin destroyed Bates. I had gone to Bates for the non-conference game when the Bobcats blew out the Polar Bears in front of a raucous crowd. Because it was a Friday night and both teams were good, a better than normal student crowd showed up. And boy did the team give the crowd a treat. From start to finish, Bowdoin was the aggressor, and I have never seen them play close to that level over 40 minutes. Hausman was the headliner of course with his record-setting 44 points, but my favorite comes around the one minute mark of the highlight video when Palecki falls down and then scrambles his way back to the three point line to hit a three.

Those moments watching Bowdoin basketball were some of my favorite as a college student. I’ll keep my final point brief, but beware that this is going to come off as very preachy.

The NESCAC likes to think of itself as different with regards to sports than other places. The first time I ever heard of the NESCAC was a Sports Illustrated article about the conference, praising the NESCAC for doing things ‘the right way.’ The Amherst President is quoted in the second paragraph as saying “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.” The article basically reads as one big advertisement for the way that the NESCAC operates. The article makes it seem as if the NESCAC has perfected the athletic and academic balance. Maybe it had. I don’t know, I wasn’t there.

However, much of the article is no longer true, and it is a useful reminder that things aren’t as peachy as Sports Illustrated would have you believe. For one, unlike what the article would have you believe, most NESCAC facilities are not ‘dumps’ and there have been substantial resources poured into them. Coaches were once not allowed to recruit off-campus, with Middlebury basketball coach Russ Reilly saying that “All colleges should do this.” Well, this article details how that same Middlebury program put in a LOT of off-campus recruiting in order to convince Zach Baines to go to Middlebury. Going on recruiting trips to camps and AAU tournaments is now normal practice for NESCAC coaches.

When talking about the old rule of NESCAC baseball teams only playing 20 games per season, Tufts baseball coach John Casey is quoted as saying, “Why are some schools playing 70 baseball games a year? I don’t know. But I do know the players are not going to class.” Well it wasn’t 70, but Tufts, still under the leadership of Casey, played 43 games this season. The article claims that firing a coach because of a lack of winning is ‘unthinkable’, but this year Williams let go of head football coach Aaron Kelton for that exact reason, and there have been other instances of this occurring, although the public reason is (almost?) never the W-L record.

The NESCAC is different, but no one should fool themselves into thinking that NESCAC sports are perfect. NESCAC presidents, coaches and alumni have to be careful in the role that sports play on campus because it is easy to deviate slightly from the intended course for a long period and then wake up one day realizing that you are in a completely different place than you intended to be. The ability for sports to be a positive for individuals and communities is a real one, but it is also a limited one. Sports can, and sometimes are, a ‘distorting force’ in the NESCAC, and we cannot bury our heads in the sand and insist that the NESCAC model is perfect.

That doesn’t discredit all the amazing things about NESCAC sports that has made me fall in love with them over the past four years. From the quality of the student-athletes to the sound of the referee blowing his whistle, NESCAC sports are special, and still closer to the right way than anywhere else in the country. I will miss it immensely.