March 7, 2013

Coyne v. Censer: Does the NESCAC Fall Ban Matter?

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

From a competitive standpoint, not having fall ball isn't a big deal for NESCAC programs. Tufts (above) and Middlebury have made a combined eight appearances in the national championship game in the past 14 seasons without the luxury of a non-traditional season. But is setting artificial limits on a student's access to an extracurricular activity in line with the conference's overall philosophies?
© John Strohsacker

The NESCAC banishment of organized fall ball always created an inner dilemma for me.

To its credit, the disallowing of fall ball held holy the notion of the two-sport athlete. Without non-traditional seasons (i.e. fall ball), a student-athlete could play a fall sport, or prepare for a winter team, without being cut or falling so far behind the curve as to have no shot when spring tryouts resumed. It's a somewhat quaint notion now, since the stories of players showing up on the first day of tryouts without a coach having at least seen a highlight tape have evaporated. It's a still a nice ideal, though.

And if the players who weren't involved in another activity wanted to get together and play in the fall, they could run practices to their heart's delight. While the coach couldn't be involved and there would be no scrimmages (at least officially), the returning student-athletes could shake off the rust from the summer while the rookies got an idea about the speed of the college game — not unlike what happens at programs that have organized fall balls.

Thirdly, as we all know, it's not like the NESCAC teams are irrevocably harmed by having no fall ball.

At the same time, the no-fall ball edict has always irked me because, as far as extracurricular participation goes, it applies a different standard to those students who choose athletics as opposed to some other extracurricular.

If you had a student who had a piano recital in the fall and was a critical member of the debate team in the spring, the NESCAC presidents would never disallow faculty contact with the debate team in the fall simply to facilitate a two-activity student. Frankly, it would be absurd.

If a student wanted access to a faculty member's expertise to help with any other activity offered by the institution, they would be lauded by the administration. If a student-athlete wants to use some of his free time for a little on-field input from his coach? Just make sure it's after Feb. 15, son.

The NESCAC was dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world of athletics just 20 years ago when they lifted the ban on NCAA team competition, so maybe that's why I don't get too bothered by their insistence on holding firmly to the antiquated no-fall ball clause. It could be worse. But there is that underlying, "Revenge of the Nerds"-type mentality where the student-athletes are being subjected to a set of rules inconsistent with the rest of the student body.

Joel, you had the opportunity to play fall ball in college at a strong academic institution. What are your thoughts on the NESCAC's fall ball ban: tempest in a teapot or something else?

CENSER: It's difficult to imagine a college lacrosse career without fall ball.

Look, there's no bigger thrill than spring. Traveling home after a big win, finding out you're going to the big dance (obviously a bit less exciting for the playoff parasites of Pool B) or reading emails from seniors about why they sacrificed all this time for lacrosse is powerful stuff and bound to stick with you for a lifetime.

But to say the day-to-day grind of a season is easy is just disingenuous. Seasons are hard. Putting in the requisite preparation and time to be successful is hard. Trudging through snow on a pulled groin in the dregs of February takes at the very minimum some passion, mental toughness, a bunch of broken-in lacrosse heads and Under Armour coldgear. Top-tier programs generally have poor freshmen retention rates for a reason.

But fall? Sure, we played hard, improved and watched as people earned spots. But facing down your teammate every other day just doesn't create the pressure-cooker environment as spring.

Plus, the weather was warm. The sleeve monsters were out. The freshmen who posted lax photos of themselves all summer on Facebook finally had to prove if they could actually play. Some of my fondest college memories are of Saturdays in September, where after lifting and practicing all morning, we'd trek to some cheesesteak joint because that's what you did when you were in Philly, it was 70 degrees and you had just had a great day playing lacrosse with your 40 best friends.

If there's someone in this world who enjoys giving the NESCAC faithful some good-natured ribbing it's me. They're the low-hanging fruit of Division III: throwing in a Thad reference or reminding everyone what happened the last time Salisbury met Tufts will always be column space/bandwidth well spent. No fall ball? It's pretty easy to chalk that up to the NESCAC thinking they really are the seer-suckered shining light of Division III athletics.

I actually like the idea of no official fall practice. Maybe I'm just getting older and turning into more of a curmudgeon. But in a era of helicopter parents — where every kid needs a club team and recruiting high school freshmen has become an accepted practice — I love the idea of entrepreneurial lacrosse players and teams. Maybe the NESCAC kids spend all fall perusing L.L. Bean outlets across New England, but at least the onus is on them to own up to it and figure out how good they actually want to be at this game.

Onto the games, where another push week keeps us even at 9-6...

No. 18 Connecticut College (0-0) at No. 15 Bowdoin (0-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: When it was announced that the number of Pool C bids was narrowing from seven to five this year, these were two teams I immediately thought of. With likely only two at-large teams coming from the NESCAC this year, if that, both the Camels and Polar Bears won't have the wiggle room they had last year. And that's what makes this a fantastic opener for both teams — a win here could very well resonate on Selection Sunday.

Now that we've built the game up, what are the key factors? First, Bowdoin is at home, which is a huge advantage for the Polar Bears. Second, it's the first game for the Bears under first-year head coach Jason Archbell, so there will likely be kinks to be worked out, although Billy Bergner (21g, 21a) and Chris Williamson (62.7 sv%; 7.53 GAA) will cure some ills. Third, Conn. College has some key pieces back and a zone defense can always cause problems, especially early in the season. I could come up with a bunch more factors, but I'll just default to the home field and take the Polar Bears, 9-7.

CENSER: Traveling to Brunswick, Maine, can't be fun, and the Camels are going to need to find replacements for defenseman Clay Hillyer and netminder Rob Moccia on the backline. But the Camels return most of their offensive firepower (however much firepower a team that averaged nine goals can have) including All-American split-dodging extraordinaire John Lyons, hard charging southpaw Stephen Eicher and a couple lanky attackmen who can finish around the net.

While I feel pretty good that the Camels will throw enough rubber at Williamson, I feel less confident that a Bowdoin team that graduated longtime defensive stalwarts Greg Pierce and Matt Egan has the defensive backbone to stop it. Camels show the original grinders how it's done. CC 11, Polar Bears 5.

Amherst (0-0) at Colby (0-0) – Saturday, 12 p.m.

COYNE: The whole Jon-Thompson-left-Colby-to-become-Amherst's-head-coach thing is pretty stale. Yeah, there are still kids on the White Mules who were recruited by Thompson, including standouts Ian Deveau (25g, 18a) and John Jennings (33g, 2a), and yes, those players are still searching for their first win over the Lord Jeffs since Thompson arrived there. But this edition of Colby has higher goals than normal, so the White Mules want this game more for postseason purposes than to settle a three-year-old grudge.

Regardless, Amherst is the one who has something to prove this spring. After an epic change in fortune, in which the Jeffs went from 7-0 and No. 3 in the country to 9-7 and a No. 8 seed in the NESCAC tourney, Thompson's charges have high hopes and dreams this spring. But to paraphrase Mike Tyson, everybody has high hopes and dreams until they stand on top of Mayflower Hill on an early March afternoon. The Jeffs feel the chill as Colby edges them late, 9-8.

CENSER: Ah, the old NESCAC drama/coach feud. Let's just say I enjoy living 600 miles away from that.

After a senior-laden Amherst squad crashed and burned in the second part of last season, it brought with it the hopes of every fan who thought the Purple-and-Whites could consistently challenge Tufts for conference supremacy. But Coach Thompson brought in an outstanding recruiting class, and there's still some talent with playoff experience at his disposal. Devin Acton pumps in some goals and chews a few toothpicks to lead Amherst past the Mules, 14-8.

No. 3 Lynchburg (4-0) at No. 14 Gettysburg (2-1) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Why am I waiting for the other shoe to constantly drop with Lynchburg? Maybe it has something to do with last year's loss to Denison in the tournament that keeps me on edge, but it's difficult for me to go all-in with the Hornets. I'm going to start changing my ways however. I'm a believer.

At least for this week. I was less than impressed with Gettysburg against Salisbury, although admittedly that's a tough data sample to judge the Bullets. I expected a little more from Martin Manilla and Robby Maddux on the offensive end, but they just struggled to find openings as the 'Burg amassed five total goals. They won't come that much easier against Lynchburg, so I'm sticking with my Hornets, 12-8.

CENSER: I'm with Jac here. Betting on a Gettysburg offense that hemmed and hawed against the Gulls and now has to match up against a rock solid Lynchburg outfit that has Joe Lisicky back in the lineup doesn't make a lot of sense.

Vin Curran, Pat Ohrem and Max Voumard solve enough of the J.T. McCook equation as the Hornets squeak by the Bullets, 8-7.

Censer's Pick

St. Lawrence (2-0) vs. Nazareth (2-2) – Saturday, 1 p.m. (at Cornell)

CENSER: This game is really about how much you trust Nazareth? Are they the team that beat Springfield and took Stevenson to the brink for a couple of quarters? Or are they that same youthful team that lost Geneseo?

I'll go with the model of consistency Larries here. Goaltender Jeff Goeke had a great week saving two-thirds of the shots he faced while leading St. Lawrence to wins over a tissue-soft Haverford team and box-friendly Adrian a few days later. Garrett Gagne takes advantage of enough Dave Hovey spot-feeds to grind Naz up. 12-9, SLU.

COYNE: This year's Nazareth team has the feel of one of those clubs that doesn't have the juice to get an at-large, but has played a brutal enough schedule where they become a nightmare in the conference tourney. I'm not predicting that the Flyers will upend Stevens quite yet, but they are improving game by game. They've played a wide variety of teams so far, and St. Lawrence will be another test for them.

Keep an eye on the faceoff duel between sophomore Drew Simoneau and freshman Ryan Brigham, as it features a couple of rising stars at the position. That aside, the Saints have a tad more experience at this time of year for Naz to handle. SLU, 8-6.

Coyne's Pick

No. 17 Roanoke (1-1) at No. 4 Dickinson (4-0) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Honestly, I'm not sure we're going to be talking too much more about this Dickinson team as they will be heavy favorites in most of the games they having remaining. So this was a way to quickly talk about this juggernaut, even if this game's result isn't really in question.

The NCAA tournament is littered with the carcasses of regular season heroes that couldn't stand the bright lights, so there's always some trepidation projecting the Red Devils fortunes, but they appear to have a great shot at grabbing the No. 1 seed in the South. With the emergence of junior Carter Moore filling the faceoff shoes of Chip Murray, every level of the field is air tight. That will be on display against the Maroons. Devils, 14-7.

CENSER: You could see the beginning of this dominant Red Devils outfit in 2011, when they won a conference championship mostly on the backs of a couple youngsters. Now those kids are all grown up, there's been some new additions to the core (why couldn't Slay Sudah take that name to the NESCAC?), and anyone with a rooting interest in the Centennial has resigned themselves to the fact that the championship runs though Carlisle.

Anyway, the most impressive thing about the Red Devils this season has been their defense. Palladino, Sudah, Zouck and Hanley remind Roanoke's Richard Lachlan that Central Pennsylvania definitely isn't Coquitlam. DC, 15-6.

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