March 8, 2012

Coyne v. Censer: NESCAC's Degree of Difficulty

by Jac Coyne and Joel Censer | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Despite spotting the rest of Division III fall ball and a month-long head start, the NESCAC is still hogging tournament bids and multiple national championships. Is it time to make it harder for the NESCAC, just out of fairness?
© Brian Beard

The NESCAC gets under people's skin. It's part and parcel of being successful, which the conference has undoubtedly been ever since it was allowed to participate in the NCAAs in '94. It's the same reason Salisbury, as an individual school, is reviled.

Prosperity breeds contempt.

What exacerbates the animosity toward the NESCAC is how the league embraces its own pretentiousness. It started prior to '94 when the conference held firm to the belief that NCAA championships for teams were a corrupting influence on the academic purity of the conference, although individual athletes in such sports as swimming and track were somehow exempted.

It continued after '94 when the league finally broke down and allowed NCAA postseason competition. The NESCAC presidents mandated that weekly standings released to the media in any sport had to be listed in alphabetical order (so as to not unnecessarily promote "competition"). Amherst was always the top dog, regardless of the howling from Williamstown when the Ephs were once again at the bottom of the pile with the best record.

A Sports Illustrated article in the mid-90s that proclaimed that NESCAC student-athletes don't play for any kind of glory, but rather "the love of the game," further rankled the rest of Division III. I was working at Washington & Lee University at the time, and the comments coming out of Lexington, Va., would have made Franklin Pierce – one of the three U.S. presidents who graduated from NESCAC schools – blush.

Thankfully, that vestige of the Dark Ages has gone by the wayside. The NESCAC is gobbling up a disproportionate share of tournament bids in every sport, and have even graduated to progressive policy of listing its schools by winning percentage.

For the most part, and with all of the evils it may hold, the NESCAC has now embraced the standard Division III mentality. Still, there are still two vestiges of pretentiousness that separate the conference from the rest of the great unwashed.

The first – the lack of a fall ball – is a throw-away. While waving the flag of "no non-traditional seasons" may score you an extra helping of duck a l'orange and the last glass of Lafite Rothschild '86 at the Annapolis Group picnic, no one really cares. And, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter.

The second is more important. The NESCAC, as a sop to the (self-professed) sanctity of the two-sport athlete, has mandated that spring sports team cannot start their practices until Feb. 15 – a full month after the NCAA demarcation.

Essentially, those running the conference have decided to build in a degree of difficulty.

Alas, despite playing with one of its collective arms tied behind its back, the NESCAC is still the only league that has produced two national champions (Middlebury, Tufts) in men's lacrosse. It's also the only conference that has received three NCAA tournament bids on multiple occasions.

Once again this spring, it is likely that the NESCAC will receive its three bids, if not an unprecedented four with the at-large expansion.

Joel, honestly, the NESCAC has made things look so easy to this point, is it time to once again ratchet up the difficulty level? Is it time to bring back the East German judge?

CENSER: Leave it to a NESCAC graduate to pat himself so hard on the back that he throws up last night's lobster roll.

Of course in that long-winded self-congratulatory diatribe, Jac forgot one tiny point.

That for all his talk about the conference dominating and overcoming obstacles like they were lawn chairs, NESCAC lacrosse just hasn't been very good the last ten years.

Yes, Middlebury had its run. But the last time the Panthers were playing during championship weekend was 2005. The latter decade version of the "Midd Kids" spent most of their time wallowing in NCAA quarterfinal misery.

In the post-Holt Hopkins/Matt Dunn era, Wesleyan rode a zone and split-dodging phenom Glenn Adams only to lose in a couple of national semi-final heartbreakers.

In 2010, Tufts' D.J. Hessler, Matt Witko, Alex Bialosky and Co., finally broke through, winning the conference's first national championship since 2002 when they took down Salisbury in Baltimore. Of course, 12 months later, the Birds got their revenge in a 19-7 title game stompdance.

I suppose now with Hessler graduated, we're supposed to expect Amherst (full of mustachioed bravado – well done, Pir) to take the mantle as new NESCAC power. The purply Grimace from the Western Massachusetts backwoods will be the new school to rise up.

Yet for all that bluster (which is only accentuated by seersucker) and a weakened North bracket, the conference still just accounts for one national championship over the past nine years.

I'm sure I can now expect every black lab roaming the sideline to be ready to attack me...

To the games (after a 5-0 week by Joel, we're tied at 11-4)....

No. 14 Gettysburg vs. No. 3 Cortland – Saturday, 1 p.m. (at Massapequa, N.Y.)

COYNE: In the light of my obnoxious opening to this piece, I know Joel is ready to ride the faithful Centennial warhorse, if only for nostalgia's sake. Alas, it's a fool's errand. This is not the right battle for the Bullets.

I have no doubt that Hank Jancyk's acolytes are going to do fine when they get into their conference slate, but the Red Dragons are a horrendous match-up. Not only does Cortland have a reputation for grinding out victories that rivals Gettysburg, but the Dragons' offense is more adept at maximizing its opportunities. For all of its talent, the Bullets are still an offensive work in progress.

It ain't gonna pretty. Dragons, 8-3.

CENSER: You know what happens when an immovable force meets an immovable force?

Me neither.

Gettysburg is winning face-offs this year, has a solid keeper in J.T. McCook, and the usual assortment of quality long poles. But Jac's right. The real question is can a green Bullets offense score enough goals against Cortland netminder Mike Kaminski (68 percent) and the rest of the Dragon buzzsaw? The 'Burg hasn't had much success here on Long Island in the past. But sophomores don't know any better, and I'll wager on the Thrilla-in-Martin Manilla getting just enough going on offense. Bullets, 8-6.

No. 4 Stevenson at No. 9 Lynchburg – Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: This has quietly become the game of the weekend. Lynchburg needs this win if it harbors any casual thoughts of earning a Pool C bid. A loss here and the Hornets are once again riding the ODAC razor. Stevenson's margin for error is larger, but Paul Cantabene has a young (potentially fragile) team that could become unhinged by a poor performance.

Both teams need this one (which has clearly become my theme of the season).

When you're in Vegas and playing blackjack, consistency is important. I hit on a 16 when I picked Lynchburg earlier in the season over Salisbury. Now I'm looking at an ace and a five. Double down. Bugs, 14-12.

CENSER: Can Lynchburg stay disciplined? That's the real question. Because we know how Stevenson's going to chirp. We know they're going to rack up penalties. We know there's going to be odd-man opportunities.

If Dylan Hoff, Andrew Wilfong and the rest of the LC offense can keep their wits, if Joe Lisicky and Franc Cook (67%) can contain the Stevenson attack duo of Tyler Reid and Stephen Banick, and if face-off technician Jeff Schwartz can regain some of his 2011 mojo; I think the Hornets roll. 12-8, Lynchburg.

No. 13 Dickinson at No. 10 Roanoke - Sunday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: Hmmm. Seeing as we haven't had one NESCAC game so far despite the preamble, I'll have to decide wither I want to turn this into a Centennial fight? Normally, I'd pick this tussle in heartbeat, especially with 'Noke on the other side (even though Maroons are currently running on a two-game losing streak with the Red Devils). But the faceoff numbers are too spooky.

Behind Chip Murray, Dickinson is currently drawing at a 62 percent (64-for-103) clip while the Maroons have combined for a dismal 49 percent (38-for-77) mark. That's a pretty spicy meatball in a rivalry that has been decided by a lone goal in each of the last three games.

Giving up home field is tough to swallow, but I'll flip the script and take the Devils, 11-10.

CENSER: You can look at Roanoke's early season through two different prisms. Either a.) the Maroons are not scoring at the rate we've come to expect because they played two teams that are better than people realized (St. Mary's in a snow storm no less, and a Canuck-infused Adrian squad), and then just weren't ready for Salisbury. Or, b.) the Maroons have to learn to make some adjustments in the post-Justin Tuma era.

Against the Red Devils and superstar longstick Brandon Palladino, 'Noke will get no rest between the stripes. The game's going to be close (they always are). But like Jac, I have more faith that the Devils will win more possessions, and Brian Cannon and Co., will know what to do with them. 12-11, DU.

Jac's Pick

No. 18 Bowdoin at Conn. College – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Ah, finally. We get to America's conference. OK, I'll admit it; the opening weekend was kind of a dud in the NESCAC despite the worldwide excitement that the league brings. I chose this one as an homage to Tom McCabe, the Polar Bears' head man who is embarking on his final expedition in Brunswick.

Conn. College is two years removed from a remarkable campaign that had the Camels as the toast of the D-III world. Last year, the momentum slowed, with one of the few highlights being a six overtime victory against Union down in D.C. Bowdoin was a miracle, last-second Jumbo goal away from potentially playing for the NESCAC automatic qualifier. How much have things changed?

Who knows? Neither team has played yet.

I'll ride the karma train and take McCabe and the PBears, 10-8.


I admit I am interested how in 2011, Conn. College returned most of their team from the previous season, and somehow began losing all those tight games. Of course, the various NESCACophiles will point to the dog-eat-dog nature of the conference; how anyone can go from top gun to bottom feeder in a single week.

Bowdoin, in many ways, has been a contrarian to the up-and-down nature of the conference. The Polar Bears always play hard, and are generally not the type of team you want to see come May. I like that tried and true L.L. Bean-styled grit. Bears muscle the Camels, 9-6.

Joel's Pick

No. 7 Stevens at No. 19 Endicott – 1 p.m., Saturday

CENSER: The Ducks can score some goals.

Even after graduating offensive studs like Brandon Faubert and Chris Laurita, Stevens Tech is averaging 16 goals a game. They've done it with a nice mix of hardened vets (Kevin Rose, Alex Hofrichter) and some new blood (Andrew Strutchfield, Michael Maroon).

Personally I don't think Endicott – even if face-off man Sam Ozycz is playing keep-away – can keep up. Stevens. 12-7.

COYNE: Man, it's going to be tough to take Endicott here. I've already taken a flyer on the Gulls against a Top 10 team, and they weren't up to the task. Is RIT better than Stevens? While the Tigers rocked the Ducks last year, these are much different teams and I would actually give Stevens the nod at this point.

The Ducks are on the road, however, and they gave up an awful lot of goals in a penalty-marred away contest with Muhlenberg on Wednesday. Alas, Endicott is going to be grinding out wins this year and isn't a scary offensive team. At least not yet, anyway. I've gotta hop off the Endicott bandwagon for this one. Mallards, 14-9.

Coyne v. Censer Archive
Week Three: Using Scheduling to Recruit
Week Two: The State of the Shoremen
Week One: Starting with a Must-Game

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