It’s no secret that athletics are important at Haverford College. Around 40% of all students play a varsity sport, and club sports only add to the number of athletes. But how many students understand the conference of which we’re a part? The Centennial Conference is a Division III collegiate athletic conference based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that is home to 11 member institutions including Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore and Dickinson Colleges. Since its inception in 1991, the Centennial Conference has had 10 teams win NCAA national titles. According to the Centennial Conference website, the conference also had 59 student-athletes earn All-American recognition, including 12 who were named First Team All-Americans during the 2015-2016 academic year.
But how does this stack up against other Division III conferences across the country? Despite the fact that ESPN’s “College Gameday,” seems to ask this constantly of Division I football, it is actually a fairly complex question. The Centennial Conference rankings below are based solely on fall sports as of Sept. 25 and includes football, even though Haverford does not have a team.
After combing through the most recent national rankings as of September 25th in football, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country and volleyball, I have compiled a ranking system of my own. I added up the total amount of ranked teams in each conference, including the teams that “received votes” but were left out of the top 25 or 35 depending on the sport. Now, keep in mind that there are 43 Division III athletic conferences out there. The Centennial Conference is currently in third place with 12 teams that are nationally ranked and 4 other teams that received votes. Haverford is not just piggybacking onto the rest of the conference, either. Haverfords’ men’s and women’s cross country teams are currently ranked 14th and 17th in the nation, respectively, while the men’s soccer team is now ranked 22nd in the country, and the women’s soccer team received votes this past week. Haverford’s Athletic Director, Wendy Smith, believes that it is no coincidence that Haverfords’ athletic teams have flourished on the national level as of late:
“The Centennial Conference consistently has multiple teams nationally ranked in their respective sports and top to bottom is extremely competitive. Our student-athletes know that they will be challenged and have the opportunity to compete against some of the best teams in the country within our own conference—it’s tough but ultimately tremendously rewarding.”
The only conferences ahead of the Centennial Conference in total ranked teams for the fall season are the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), with 19 ranked teams and 5 other teams receiving votes, and the University Athletic Association (UAA), which has 15 ranked teams and 3 teams receiving votes.
What if we factor in enrollment averages for each conference? The NESCAC averages 2,308 students per institution, the UAA averages 18,788 students per institution, the WIAC averages 8,750 students per institution, while our Centennial Conference averages 2,868 students per institution as stated on the institutions’ respective websites. These factors considered, the Centennial Conference ranks second to only the NESCAC in terms of this new statistic, ranked teams per student or RT/S, with a score of .005 RT/S as opposed to the NESCAC’s .009 RT/S. To put it in layman’s terms, the Centennial Conference is home to some pretty darn good fall sports teams considering we do not have the ability to draw from vast student bodies.
It is no coincidence, however, that the Centennial Conference is home to many nationally ranked teams. The Executive Director of the Centennial Conference, Steve Ulrich, believes that “one of the great things about the Centennial Conference is that you are going to get a good game against a Conference opponent every time out. There is rarely an easy game in the Centennial [Conference], so our teams are tested and ready for the postseason.” This is in part because the conference is home to many student-athletes who could have participated in Division I sports but might not have had the chance to see the playing field as often. Instead, they turned to our conference, which is home to institutions that place a premium on academics, making the success of our conference’s teams that much more impressive.
Photos courtesy of Managing Editor Ethan Lyne