DePauw’s move a good thing for NCAC

The North Coast Athletic Conference just got better.

Officials announced today that DePauw football will be joining the NCAC beginning in 2012, while all other sports will enter the conference a year earlier, in the 2011-12 school year.

The move for DPU, a Phi Beta Kappa institution like the rest of the NCAC, ends a more than decade-long question mark that many people had. Since the late ‘90s, DePauw has been a member of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, playing teams from as far away as Alabama to Colorado and several places in-between. It’s no wonder that DePauw’s president, Brian Casey, cited “fewer strains on both schedules and budgets,” in today’s news release as part of the reason for the move.

Now, DePauw brings its solid academic and athletic reputation (evidenced by its five-straight SCAC President’s Trophy wins) to a conference that, by all observations, fits snuggly with the school’s philosophy.

Of prime note is that the move will reunite DPU with its more than century-long rival, Wabash, in conference play. Separated by only 30 miles, it makes sense for these institutions to be conference siblings.

The schools play annually on the last weekend of the regular season for the Monon Bell – a game that resonates intensity even without conference title hopes on the line. To emphasize the scale of the rivalry, only the slimmest of margins separate the overall series. WC’s win in 2009 gave it a one-win lead, 54-53-9.

But that’s not all. A few years back, the rivalry was also the only non-Division I matchup in the nation to be considered in an ESPN “greatest football rivalries” poll. And in each of the past three seasons, the Monon Bell game has played a critical role in determining either postseason entry or seeding for at least one of the two schools.

Think about the stakes if a conference title possibility is added to the mix.

I can envision it, because I’ve seen it before. I was a Wabash student during some of those final years that DePauw and Wabash shared a conference. Though it’s been well documented that the emotions at the Bell game, especially from the stands, showed excess in the late ‘90s, lessons have been learned from those mistakes. They won’t be made again.

The change is of course good well beyond the DePauw-Wabash gridiron rivalry. All sports between the schools will carry more weight. But, perhaps most of all in the big picture, the conference, top to bottom, will be better and more competitive. All NCAC teams will benefit from DePauw. Teams in all sports will be pushed harder and the national exposure will be greater.

Because of that, the NCAC’s student-athletes are the biggest beneficiaries. And DePauw made its change with courtesy – choosing to honor its already-planned schedules.

I did understand the reasons DePauw parted ways with any Great Lakes-area conferences back in 1998. Many people weren’t happy about it – including me to some extent – but I respected it. However, there can be no more complaints or finger-pointing. After Earlham’s departure to the HCAC, this is a good decision by DePauw and a good choice by the NCAC front office.

I hope that the new Tigers call the NCAC home for a long time to come.

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