NESCAC International Travel Ban Frustrates Athletes and Coaches
As a result of the international travel ban imposed on student teams by the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) beginning in September 2009, many athletes and coaches are reevaluating their plans for team trips over breaks. The travel ban, which was agreed upon by NESCAC school presidents over the summer of 2009, prohibits teams from traveling outside of the continental United States. Many athletes and coaches oppose the policy, which the NESCAC implemented as a reaction to the tough economic climate.
“I’d be in favor of lifting the ban,” said Arya Alizadeh ’13, Chairman of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA). “Teams will always do their spring break trips—they’re a great way to get good team bonding going. But I understand that it doesn’t look great for a university, especially with economic issues, to see teams going abroad for practice or competitions.”
University Athletic Director John Biddiscombe believes that the policy was a necessary choice for the colleges to make.
“I’m in support of international travel,” he said. “However I understand the presidents’ rationale for the ban at this time, and I also understand the frustrations the coaches and athletes have.”
The University does not pay for these team trips. Instead, athletes fundraise to pay for lodging and transportation, and pay for airfare on their own.
“The thing that bothers us the most is that since we’re a Division III school, we’re funding the trip entirely ourselves,” said Darren Thomason ’11, co-captain of the men’s swimming team. “The school doesn’t subsidize any part of it—they just give us money for meals. Puerto Rico is not necessarily more expensive than Florida, but it’s definitely better. We’re paying for this, so we want to choose where we’re going to go.”
However, Biddiscombe believes that teams going abroad may place unnecessary financial burdens on students who might not be able to afford these trips.
“To ask students and parents to come up with the money for these trips in these economic times is problematic,” Biddiscombe said. “Often those that can’t afford to do this on the team represent the silent minority, and unless there was another way to supplement funds for those that don’t have the economic strength to go, then [the ban] is probably the right decision at this time.”
Alizadeh represented the University at the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) meeting between all the NESCAC schools at Tufts University in October. He noted that representatives from the other schools shared his frustrations with the policy.
“We all agreed that the international travel ban really didn’t make sense to students,” Alizadeh said. “Some teams might not be able to get the level of competition that they need by staying in the country.”
Head Women’s and Men’s Squash Coach Shona Kerr believes that her teams will miss out on the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures in countries where squash is more popular.
“Squash is played by many more people and to much higher levels outside of the U.S.,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “[These trips] give the teams a chance to witness and experience this.”
Before the ban was instated, the squash team went to Mexico in January 2008 and 2009. The team travelled to California last year and will be going to Arizona this winter. Kerr stressed that the trips provided opportunities for teams to bond away from the distractions on campus.
“It provides an opportunity for students to come together as a team and to really train, play, and be with one another without the worries of schoolwork, family life or any extraneous factors,” she wrote. “When we come to the end of the season and a match comes down to one team member, a bonded team will always win out over a fractured team. In many instances, this has been related back to the group dynamics that are fostered while away from campus.”
The men’s swimming team also faced problems because of the ban when their annual trip to Puerto Rico was switched to a trip to Florida last January.
“The main problem we have with this policy is that Puerto Rico was a perfect set up for us, and it’s perfect for swim teams in January,” Thomason said. “There were tons of swim teams in Puerto Rico at the same time as us—other NESCAC teams and teams from all across the country. Florida’s just not warm enough in January to be swimming outside.”
Last year the team arrived in Florida during record low temperatures that forced them to practice less than they had intended.
Alizadeh believes the presidents of the NESCAC schools will be more willing to change the policy as the economy improves.
“A lot of the NESCAC teams have said that the worst is still to come for them economically,” Alizadeh said. “That’s the major impetus for why the presidents have been reluctant to alleviate this ban.”
Biddiscombe explained that the athletic directors at other NESCAC schools shared his sentiments, and that the presidents of the NESCAC schools will continue to review the ban in the future.
“The presidents of the conference are constantly viewing this policy, and many of them are troubled by not having students have these travel experiences,” he said. “But on the other hand, they need to signal that it’s only essential items we should be funding. The students are well represented by the athletic directors on this issue and it’s not a forgotten issue. We all believe that at a place like Wesleyan, foreign travel is an educational experience, and one of our missions here is to provide those types of experiences for students.”