Just 10 more years: Waiting in the wings for its centennial celebration is the Division III Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which turned 90 on Dec. 8 and decided not wait for a birthday party.
Conference schools assembled a video collection set to The Beatles’ “Birthday Song,” featuring members of the institutions’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.
By Gary Brown
Quick: What do Princeton, Rutgers, Bucknell, Penn, Gettysburg, Swarthmore, Dickinson, Arcadia, Elizabethtown and Delaware have in common?
If you answered that they’re all located in Middle Atlantic states, you would be technically correct. But the real answer is that at one time or another these schools have been members of the Middle Atlantic Conference.
They are among 57 institutions – several of which are now Division I members – to have been part of the Division III league since its founding 100 years ago.
With all of the conference realignment going on these days, it’s remarkable that any league has lasted long enough to celebrate a centennial. But the MAC is actually one of five NCAA conferences doing so either this year or next. In addition to the MAC, the Division III Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, the Division II · Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the Division II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference all are celebrating their 100th birthdays.
With the NCAA having been established in 1906, there clearly was a run on the market with conference formation soon afterward. Only five existing leagues are older than the Middle Atlantic Conference – the Division III Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (1888), the Division I Big Ten Conference (1896), the Division III Ohio Athletic Conference (1902), the Division I Missouri Valley Conference (1907) and the Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (1909).
With so much transition within its own ranks, perhaps the operative word for the MAC over the years is “survival.” The league certainly was in survivor mode at least three times in its history. One was in the early 1970s when the NCAA transformed its bifurcated university and college division structure into the three divisions in place today. Thus, all of the university members of the MAC – the Division I schools – left the league for Division I affiliations.
In 1981, eight MAC schools announced they were forming a single-sport conference for football. Eleven years later, those eight schools, plus Washington College and Haverford, left the MAC in all sports and formed the Centennial Conference.
Another splintering occurred in 2007 when the new Landmark Conference was established. The MAC could have folded at that time, but Executive Director Ken Andrews evoked the adage that whatever hadn’t killed the MAC by then only made it stronger.
“The Landmark split in 2007 actually served as a solidifying force since it required the MAC to rededicate itself by developing a new philosophy and principle statement and mission,” said Andrews, who’s been head of the conference since May 2000. Before that, he was the AD at his alma mater Macalester College. “And that happened through presidential leadership.”
One of those presidents was Jim Harris of Widener University, who is the dean of MAC presidents these days.
“The mission of the conference certainly has changed with the times,” said Harris, former chair of the Division III Presidents Council. “Presidents are responsible for this conference even more so now than in the past. Now, we let the Division III philosophy drive our decision-making.”
The current iteration of the MAC includes 18 schools and 24 conference-sponsored sports. The MAC is unique in that it is a so-called “umbrella” conference, which means it is the over-arching entity for its two sub-conferences, the Freedom and Commonwealth.
Andrews cites a new sense of cohesion within the league because of the renewed emphasis on the collective good.
“There’s a purpose of conference more than of institutional autonomy – or at least in addition to institutional autonomy,” he said. “What makes the MAC unique is that it has survived for 100 years without the continuity of a WIAC (the Wisconsin league in which most of the current schools are charter members), for example, or even a common sense of purpose like the UAA (the metropolitan city-based University Athletic Association) has had. The reason we are stronger now is that by almost going out of business in 2007, the presidents took charge.”
Another “dean” of the MAC is Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham’s Bill Klika, who’s been the athletics director since 1988 after starting the football program there in 1973.
“Mostly, it’s the relationships that have kept this league together,” Klika said. “In the times of transition, the group has taken a ‘what’s good for the conference’ approach rather than ‘what’s good for me.’ It’s a group of members who need each other.”
The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association may not have gone through as many schools as the MAC, but it sure has lasted as long.
First organized in 1912 as the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the league changed its name in 1992 when its borders grew beyond Missouri with the addition of Pittsburg State and Washburn, both located in Kansas.
The league is now 15 members strong, though the roster will be 14 next year when Truman State University leaves for the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The MIAA now also has members in Oklahoma and Nebraska. Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri State are the lone remaining charter members.
“While our composition may have changed over the years, the common mission of the conference hasn’t – it has always been first and foremost to graduate student-athletes,” said current Commissioner Bob Boerigter, the former AD at Northwest Missouri State who assumed the MIAA leadership reins in September 2010. “If you look at our history, you see an emphasis on eligibility standards and progress toward degree. There’s also an emphasis on providing schedules for competition and quality officiating.
“It’s kind of funny, but as you study the history of a conference that has lasted this long, the same things we talk about today – whether we should have divisions, how much time should we be away from class, how many games should we play, how much are we going to spend on getting officials to games – are the same things they were talking about way back in 1912.”
Two conferences celebrating their centennials are composed primarily of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association is the older of the two, having been founded in 1912 as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association. It changed its name to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1950. Two of its current schools – Livingstone and Biddle (now known as Johnson C. Smith) – are credited with playing the first intercollegiate football game between two African-American colleges in 1892.
Today, the CIAA boasts colleges and universities that span the East Coast from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. In 2008, the CIAA made history by adding Chowan, which was the first non-predominantly African-American school to join the conference.
“There are a select few conferences in any division that can say they have been around for 100 years,” said Peggy Davis, the director of athletics at CIAA member Virginia State University. “This country has seen and experienced many economic challenges over the years, but the CIAA continues to stand strong and provide academic and athletic support to students of all generations.”
The CIAA’s younger sibling, so to speak, is the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which was born on Dec. 13, 1913.
Two institutions have held continuous membership in the conference: Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) and Tuskegee University. The present membership is composed of 13 institutions in five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee).
Meanwhile, the Division III Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, also founded in 1913, is one of only a few NCAA leagues whose members are from the same university system.
Seven of the nine WIAC schools (Superior, River Falls, Stevens Point, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Whitewater and Platteville) are charter members. Stout joined the conference in 1914, followed by Eau Claire in 1917.
The nine institutions have a total student-enrollment of about 70,000, and 80 percent of WIAC student-athletes are products of Wisconsin high schools. More than 350,000 WIAC alumni currently reside within the state of Wisconsin.
“Our kids played with and against each other in high school,” said WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner. “Many of our coaches came up through the high school ranks in the state. Many of our conference members are even on a first-name basis with our game officials – which is both good and bad. We have football teams on which every member of the roster is from Wisconsin. I don’t think there’s anything like it in college sports.”
There probably won’t be another period when five college sport conferences turn 100 at the same time, either.
Gail Dent of the NCAA communications staff contributed to this article.