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By Gary Brown
Eight Division III conferences have pledged their commitment to sportsmanship by joining the New England Division III Sportsmanship Initiative, which promises “a commitment to fair and respectful conduct toward all participants and supporters.”
Commissioners of the Commonwealth Coast Conference, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, the Little East Conference, the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, the New England Collegiate Conference, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, and the North Atlantic Conference circulated a letter Friday that urges:
“One of the interesting aspects of the New England region is the high density of Division III institutions within our geographical footprint,” said Julie Muller, commissioner of the North Atlantic Conference. “With this full commitment from all eight conferences, we come close to ensuring student-athletes will have a consistent experience regardless of competing both in and out of conference.
“By publicly stating our intentions, we are agreeing to be teammates instead of opponents in achieving this lofty but attainable goal by engaging all constituent groups in this process.”
Muller said the shared approach has been effective elsewhere, too.
“After hearing our colleagues from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference discuss the success they achieved through a shared approach to sportsmanship, the New England commissioners began to discuss options for initiating our own concerted efforts in this area,” she said.
More than 80 Division III schools are located in the New England region.
“As Division III conference commissioners, we strive to ensure that our conferences are providing positive athletic opportunities as an integral aspect of the educational experience of student-athletes,” the letter reads. “We place the utmost importance on sportsmanship, personal conduct, and safe and collegial environments in which our student-athletes compete.”
The initiative gives conferences the autonomy to determine the extent of the accountability in cases where protocol isn’t followed. Muller said it is likely the “sharpness of the teeth” will vary among conferences.
For example, Jonathan Harper said the Little East Conference agreed to implement an additional game suspension for any men’s soccer student-athlete who is assessed a red card during a conference contest or accumulates five yellow cards. That sanction doubles the one-game penalty that is prescribed in the rules. League members will review the effectiveness of that policy at the end of the year.
The New England initiative adds to existing sportsmanship efforts in the Northeast. The nearby Empire 8 has emphasized good sportsmanship through several programs initiated in the last decade, including the conduct foul program and a code of conduct policy.
Gregg Kaye, commissioner of the Commonwealth Coast Conference, said sportsmanship and conduct have emerged as a major concern in the New England region.
“As we all strive individually to create the most positive environment possible for our student-athletes, joining forces on this initiative is a very simple, yet powerful way to ensure that good sportsmanship becomes a hallmark value across New England,” he said. “Educational institutions in New England are recognized as leaders academically and athletically. As conference commissioners, it is paramount that we work to achieve this excellence in every phase of our student-athletes’ undergraduate experience.”
The New England initiative emphasizes that institutions are choosing this commitment rather than complying with a requirement.
“Good sportsmanship and a positive participatory experience are not just words and catchphrases, but values to which student-athletes, coaches, athletics administrators, game officials and spectators must be fully committed in order to provide a positive climate for athletics competition,” it says. “We must all work together and be fully committed to fostering the principles of good sportsmanship and positive game environments for which we all strive.”