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Expansion of the MIAC non-traditional season to be examined

<r many years, the MIAC non-traditional season has been a topic of much debate and continuous reevaluation. The expressed support from coaches who believe in increasing the number of coach’s practices in the offseason has initiated a new set of petitions to expand the MIAC’s non-traditional season. The current NCAA Division 3 regulation permits teams 16 opportunities for play in the offseason, while the MIAC only allows for seven. This disparity in the allowance of practices raises the question as to whether or not MIAC schools are at a disadvantage when competing against other schools across the NCAA.

Gerald Young, Carleton’s Athletic Director, is against the expansion for a variety of reasons that outline why the MIAC has always had this strict regulation in place. “The MIAC is a conference that has a very strong commitment to academics, as well as a commitment to providing a balance for those who want to be two-sport athletes and participate in other activities”, Young said. Additionally, schools in the MAIC have limited facilities, meaning teams are at times overlapping for training spaces. There is also an increased stress on our support staff, especially athletic trainers. Increased practices create a higher demand for staff, “sometimes leaving our trainers with no days off,” Young explained.

While it may appear that the MIAC stands out with its current regulations, other D3 conferences exist that are similar or even more restrictive. For example, the NESCAC, another D3 conference with a strong commitment to academics, does not allow any form of a non-traditional season. Young states that he “wholeheartedly agrees with our current philosophy.” The common belief within the MIAC administration is that seven practices sufficiently provides coaches with the ability to work with and evaluate teams in the offseason, while still allowing student-athletes to immerse themselves into different aspects of college life, an ability that is very important at a school like Carleton. The current petition under review is to expand the MIAC offseason from seven to 16 playing opportunities.

This is not the first time coaches have pushed for the expansion of team practices, as the school underwent the same process five years ago. The petition narrowly passed through the MIAC athletic directors, but ultimately failed at the faculty level.

The approval of this expansion is a complex process: it must be initially passed by MIAC athletic directors, followed by faculty athletics representatives and finally approved by the school presidents within the MIAC.  The athletic directors will discuss the new expansion requests at their upcoming meeting in May. The current petitions on the table have come from the Carleton women’s soccer and volleyball teams and will be voted upon at that time. Should all levels of administration agree to pass the petitions, the expansion of the non-traditional season would go into effect at the beginning of next year. “I can tell you that Carleton will be a ‘no’ vote at the meeting”, Young said. He acknowledged the possibility of the petition passing at the athletic directors meeting, but cannot see it passing through the faculty level.

A survey was recently sent to student-athletes participating in football, soccer, volleyball, baseball, and softball teams regarding each student’s personal perspective on the expansion of the offseason. Questions in the survey included opinions on the ideal number of non-traditional season practices and rating the impact of offseason training on individual players. A similar survey was conducted five years ago, in which athletes were predominantly against the offseason expansion. This year, however, survey results have indicated that athletes are shifting their interests toward supporting the expansion. The inequality of coach’s practices could suggest a disadvantage for MIAC schools when competing in nonconference play. However, when viewed at the national level, it is clear that the MIAC conference does very well despite the strict non-traditional season. Across the years, whether viewed by gender or sport, the MIAC is consistently well-represented in NCAA playoff and championship competition.

The seven-practice regulation is the same for all teams in the MIAC, with the exceptions of baseball and softball. Approximately a decade ago, MIAC administrators voted to increase the number of offseason practices for these teams to 12. Fall sports, such as soccer and football, have the opportunity in late summer during preseason to be fully evaluated and train on their standard fields prior to the beginning of the season. As Young explained for the baseball and softball teams, “Their season starts in February…in Minnesota.” In other words, it is impossible for these teams to train on their natural field space in preparation for the spring season. Therefore, the MIAC deemed it appropriate to expand their offseason practices in the fall term.

The non-traditional season is a subject that carries a mix of opinions throughout Carleton’s coaches. Certain coaches are strong advocates for expansion, some are content with the current regulations and others would support the elimination of the offseason entirely. The conversation of expansion can be perceived as beneficial for increased opportunity for player development, or, consequently, increased opportunity for mandate from coaches. The current MIAC regulation does not prevent team members from coming together and leading their own training sessions. These opportunities allow teams to display their independence and initiative, prompting players to step up and grow into more mature and devoted student-athletes. The board will soon begin to closely review the new proposed petitions, with the goal of determining whether or not this expansion will be in the best interests of the Carleton and other MIAC student-athletes.  

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