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By Gerry Boyle '78
Colby's sports news this fall didn't all come from game-day competitions.
The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) policy on out-of-season team practices, which for years had not been interpreted consistently or properly around the conference, was clarified and reemphasized following a September 25 meeting of NESCAC presidents. The rule states: "on-field/on-court activities called by any member of the team and confined primarily to members of that team are not permissible."
Following that meeting President William "Bro" Adams disseminated the policy at Colby and issued a statement that said, in part: "I was not a NESCAC president when the original policy was enacted, but its rationale seems clear: the playing and practicing season ought to have discrete limits, thus permitting and encouraging students to engage in activities outside their sports."
NESCAC presidents agreed to go back to their campuses to discuss the issues surrounding the rule against captain's practices with their administrators, coaches, students and faculty. The presidents were scheduled to reconvene at Tufts University Dec. 18 for reports on those discussions and to consider a proposal from NESCAC athletic directors.
Meanwhile, Ivy League presidents similarly worried about the breadth of their athletes' experiences are requiring teams to hold no practices during a total of seven weeks per year beginning this fall.
The announcements concerning the out-of-season rules prompted a flurry of protest at Colby, with student athletes demonstrating outside the Eustis Building one afternoon in October. "Our first reaction was disbelief and frustration because we had no idea what the policy was," said Sarah Walsh '03, captain of the women's basketball team. "There were so many different interpretations. . . . We just wanted a clear explanation of what was and wasn't illegal."
Though the most recent interpretation may appear more strict than in past years, the ban on formal out-of season practices has been in place since the 1971 formation of NESCAC, which has more restrictive athletic policies than most Division III conferences.
According to Athletic Director Marcella Zalot, interpretation and implementation of the policy has varied at Colby and at other conference schools under different administrations and athletic directors. An effort has been underway for at least two years to better define just how the restrictions would be clarified and implemented. "It got confusing as to what the rule actually was," Zalot said.
The discussion was already ongoing but came under a spotlight in September when a Colby men's hockey player was seriously injured during an on-ice captain's practice at Kents Hill School in Readfield. That practice, arguably permissible under the rules in use at that time, prompted Adams and other presidents to step in, said Sally Baker, executive assistant to the president at Colby. But Baker said interpretation of the out-of-season practice rules had been troubling for some time.
"Bro has been thinking about this ever since he got here," Baker said. "He's been concerned about the balance that students need to maintain between athletics and academics, that it was tipping too far toward athletics in some cases."
At Colby this fall, an ad hoc committee of coaches, faculty members and administrators assisted the Athletics Advisory Committee and Adams in crafting an interim rule governing out-of-season activities that "adheres to both the spirit and the letter of the NESCAC policy."
That policy "may be refined depending on what comes of the presidents' discussions," Adams said. But as of December the guidelines for out-of-season activities:
* Allow voluntary pick-up games and voluntary strength and conditioning programs;
Following early opposition and protest, an understanding was reached. Walsh said initial concerns that all out-of-season activities would be banned were alleviated as she and others met with Adams. Some students felt that decisions were being made unilaterally by the administration, but Walsh said she felt Adams listened and seriously considered the athletes' concerns. More clarification came at a subsequent panel discussion open to the campus at large during which Adams, Zalot, Walsh, men's hockey assistant captain Sean O'Grady '03 and Professor James Meehan (economics) fielded questions from students.
Walsh said she came away from the process satisfied. "It seems fair to me and the rest of the captains," she said. "We can play pickup. We have equipment available to use."
Zalot, meanwhile, said she was ready to get back to the business of overseeing Colby athletics, without the distraction of the practice-rules issue. "It's taken up my September," she said, "and my October, too."
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