Emerson changes athletic conference

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • March 1, 2012

After competing in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) since 1995, Emerson athletics announced Tuesday its acceptance into the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) starting in next year.

“I think it’s a very positive move for the college, because it puts us in the company of a group of highly selective institutions,” said President M. Lee Pelton in an interview. “I’m very pleased that Emerson is a member of the NEWMAC.”

Lynn Pasquerella, the president of Mount Holyoke College, and chair of the NEWMAC Presidents’ Council, said the decision, which was approved unanimously by the 10 current institutions in the conference, was made two weeks ago.

“The application was put in at the beginning of the academic year. I just became president of the NEWMAC presidents, but Emerson College has been in consideration throughout the year,” Pasquerella said. “It’s exciting to have Emerson as a partner. Emerson brings the academic strength and competitiveness and has shown a commitment to the same

“The application was put in at the beginning of the academic year. I just became president of the NEWMAC presidents, but Emerson College has been in consideration throughout the year,” Pasquerella said. “It’s exciting to have Emerson as a partner. Emerson brings the academic strength and competitiveness and has shown a commitment to the same athletic values that the other new NEWMAC institutions exhibit.”

The schools in the NEWMAC tend to be more focused on academics than GNAC schools. While there is no differences in the two conferences academic policies, a college’s academic profile is highly considered when applying to the NEWMAC, according to athletic department officials.

The NEWMAC boasts a number of programs that have been recognized nationally, including the MIT men’s basketball team, curently ranked third in the country, and the Babson women’s basketball team, currently ranked 13th.

Many coaches and athletes have expressed their excitement and approval with the announcement.

“I think the best thing about us going into the NEWMAC is it demonstrates to our class and to incoming classes that Emerson is becoming increasingly more competitive about its athletics,” said Eli Kell-Abrams, a freshman on the men’s basketball team, who was recently named GNAC Rookie of the Year.

Commissioner of the GNAC Joe Walsh said he was notified on Tuesday of Emerson’s plans to exit the conference. Walsh previously served as the athletic director of Emerson.

“I don’t want to be too verbose — there are two feelings, personal and professional. I was the Athletic Director at Emerson in the early 90s,” Walsh said. “There is certainly sadness to see a long-time member go, but I know the school was vying for it for a while, so I wish them well, but it’s always sad to see a long-time member leave.”

Emerson Athletic Director Kristin Parnell said the college applied to join the NEWMAC about eight years ago, and the change in conference will help increase the profile of Emerson’s athletics, something she said the department is trying to improve.

“This is truly an exciting opportunity for Emerson Athletics, as we feel the NEWMAC offers Emerson an elite level of competition and academic excellence that pairs perfectly with the mission of both the college and the Athletic Department,” Parnell said in a press release.

Phil McElroy, head coach of the softball team, said the change in conference will give Emerson athletics better visibility and said he looks forward to the competition of the NEWMAC.

“Each time we step on the field, it’s going to be a challenge,” McElroy said. “There’s never going to be a day off.”

Kell-Abrams agreed, and cited the level of competition in the NEWMAC as a reason to be exicted.

“I think every single team in that conference is very talented, and I think it’s going to push us to be better,” the freshman said.  

Emerson will compete in the GNAC for one more year, and then officially begin competition in the NEWMAC beginning in the fall of 2013. All of Emerson’s 14 recognized National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams will be making the conference change, with the exception of men’s volleyball. The NEWMAC does not recognize men’s volleyball, and according to GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh, Emerson will have to reapply for its position of men’s volleyball as a sport in its current conference.

“Emerson has withdrawn from GNAC. We would have to go through a review, and a majority vote by the remaining 13 schools will determine if they will stay,” Walsh said. “I would not be opposed to it, but it’s not for me to decide.”

While a petition has been circulating through former and current Emerson student athletes to review Parnell’s position, Pasquerella said she was not aware of such a document and is confident Emerson will resolve all issues.

“I had conversations with Pelton before Emerson was invited. We look at the integrity of the institution,” Pasquerella said. “I don’t have any doubts of the integrity of Emerson. Personnel matters are internal, and we’re confident that [Emerson] can resolve those problems.”