Athletics and Academics FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions - and Answers

Below are the questions – with answers – that are most frequently posed to the Athletics Committee by academic faculty, athletics faculty, and students. We thank those who vetted drafts of this document during its preparation: Kath Kilventon, Registrar; Protik Majumder, Interim President of the College; Lisa Melendy, Athletics Director; Lee Park, Interim Dean of the Faculty; Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College; Safa Zaki, Chair of Faculty Steering Committee; David Zimmerman, Chair of Calendar and Schedule Committee.

Prepared by the 2017-18 Athletics Committee (Dan Greenberg, Laurie Heatherington, Kris Kirby, Kelsey Levine, Enrique Peacock-López, Li Yu) The questions are presented in three sections. Please click on each question for the answer.

I. Questions of general interest
II. Questions from students’ perspective
III. Questions from the perspective of Athletics and Academic Faculty


I. Questions of general interest

1. Some of these questions refer to the NESCAC? What is the NESCAC?

New England Small College Athletic Association. It is the league in which Williams competes and also includes Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Connecticut College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Trinity, Tufts, Wesleyan.

“The New England Small College Athletic Conference consists of eleven highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities. Its members are committed first and foremost to academic excellence and believe that our athletic programs must always support our educational mission. Presidents of the member institutions exercise control of athletics at both the institutional and conference level to ensure that we remain true to our core values.” (NESCAC manual)

More information may be found at:

2. Who is responsible for setting and overseeing broad policies and practices about Williams’ athletics program and participation in the NESCAC (e.g., what sports are supported, what rules does the NESCAC set that we must adhere to, how does athletics factor into admissions)?

That would be the Williams President, Athletics Director, and sometimes CAFA (Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid) in an advisory role. They may occasionally consult with the Athletics Committee as needed, but the Athletics Committee has no decision-making power about these matters.

3. How is the scheduling of regular season matches and games done?

Each sport has a slightly different scheduling model. There are NCAA Division 3 limits to the number of competitions (i.e., games, matches) that teams and individuals can participate in and then a NESCAC limit, which is always somewhat lower. NESCAC rules mandate specific starting and end dates for practice and competition in each season.

For the regular season NESCAC-sponsored team sports, the conference schedule is set first and voted on by the NESCAC Athletic Directors and Presidents. After that, coaches generally schedule their remaining contests with the direction to miss as little class as possible and to make sure to schedule away contests on different days so that students do not miss the same class repeatedly. In the past, the Division of the Day document contained the rule of thumb that a student shouldn’t miss more than one week’s worth of class for athletic conflicts; this was removed at some point but still seems like a useful measurement and maximum. Of course, the goal is no missed class time, but that is difficult to achieve. Across the 32 sports, the Athletics Department schedules roughly 475 varsity athletic events each year.

The tentative schedules are reviewed by our Williams Athletics Department scheduler, the Athletic Director, and other staff members to look at the cost, modes of transportation, and departure times. It is at that meeting where it is important to catch unusually large amounts of missed class time. For some sports, like skiing and golf, it can be difficult to find facilities willing to host on Sundays as these events are often held at commercial venues who want to have their venues open for paying customers on Saturdays and Sundays.

4. How is the scheduling of post-season competitions done?

In most sports, the seasons end with some sort of play-offs for NESCAC and/or national championship; the dates and sites for post-season play are set by the governing body (in most instances the NCAA). Williams also participates in NESCAC Championships. The format, dates, and locations of NESCAC Championships are approved by Athletic Directors and Presidents.

5. Is there a posting somewhere of all potential scheduling conflicts with classes?

Yes, located on the Athletics Committee website at This list is maintained by the Athletics Department. Please note that this is simply a list of the scheduled varsity games that may present potential conflict with class time for some student-athletes. It is not construed as a list of “official” or “approved” absences from class. Instructors should make their attendance policies for all students clear on their syllabi and on the first day of class.

6. Under what circumstances would the schedule of games or meets ever be changed (i.e. games or matches rescheduled, etc.)?

Generally, the only reason a competition would be rescheduled is due to weather concerns, related to the competition itself and/or to travel conditions. If it were a conference (NESCAC) contest, every effort to make it up would be made (per the NESCAC agreement), which might mean unexpected missed class time. For other non-conference games, it might just be canceled and not rescheduled.

II. Questions from students’ perspectives

1. When are afternoon classes supposed to end?

3:50 pm

2. When are labs supposed to end?

4 pm, except Chemistry, which is 5 pm.

3. When are afternoon practices supposed to start?

4:15 pm

4. “What is the best way to talk to a professor about class-lab conflicts with regular season games or matches? About post-season conflicts that arise?”

Talk to your professors very early in the semester, within the first full week of classes (or earlier, if the conflict is at the very beginning of the semester). Read the syllabus carefully to see what the professor’s policies are about missed classes or exams. Speak with your professor after class or in office hours about which day(s) there will be conflicts and ask how you can make up the work. If there is an exam scheduled for the day of the conflict and you decide that you need to miss that class anyway, ask whether there are alternative arrangements, e.g., taking the exam early or on the road, given by the coach. If you play a sport that has post-season contests, let the professor know as soon as you know (about any potential conflicts with tournament play) and explain how that process works. This is especially important with regard to end-of-semester classes that may include presentations and group projects and choices you may have to make about these conflicts.

Note: Student-athletes are given this advice by coaches and the Athletic Director in mandatory meetings at the beginning of each semester.

5. “What should I do if I have a professor whose class often goes past the finishing time? In order to make it to practice on time, I need to leave punctually. What about labs that run late and are hard to leave, e.g., chemical reactions ongoing, etc.?”

Always talk to the professor well in advance to explain your potential conflicts. If you know ahead that you will have a number of conflicts in the afternoon, sign up for an earlier section for the lab. If this happens only occasionally, you may also request to take a different lab section.

Chemistry labs are the only exception to the Division of the Day, as the labs are scheduled from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. In the case of the introductory courses, the Chemistry Department offers multiple lab sections, including a morning (8:00 am – noon) and night (7:00pm – 11:00PM) section. We recommend that students carefully consider their options during preregistration to avoid conflicts.

6. “What should I do if I have a competition during the week that starts at 4pm and I need to warm up ahead of time?”

See the answer to question 5.

7.”To whom should I go for advising about selecting courses if I’m worried about academic/athletics conflicts, e.g., labs, night classes, time management, post-season play, etc.?”

To your first-year advisor, coach, and/or major advisor.

8. “If my sport depends on selection (e.g., tennis, skiing, rowing, squash) for competitions later in the season, when is it appropriate to email professors about moving work or getting extensions? In other words, I will not know if I am competing until a few days before the due date and competition, is it ok to email as if I am or may be competing?

Athletes should be optimistic in assuming they will attend post-season play and discuss this possibility for travel/play with their professor at the beginning of the semester, when they bring up other conflicts.

9. “How do I best prepare for or talk to professors when the end date of my season or amount of traveling for my season is uncertain?”

See answer to question 8.

10. What is the maximum number of classes I can miss in a semester for athletic competitions/travel?

There is no college-wide rule or policy on this; it is up to the professor to set attendance policies for all the students in their class. Read the course syllabus carefully as it is a kind of contract that sets out expectations for the course. (See question 7.)

11. Can I go to a lecture that is offered during practice time?

That should be discussed with your coach, as policies may vary just as attendance policies for classes vary.

12. I have approached a professor/coach and told the professor/coach that I would be missing a class/practice due to an athletic/academic event. S/he told me “I don’t want to hear about it.” I don’t understand what this means. Do they not care about my absence or are they angry that I am going to be absent or even thinking about it?

It is hard to say for particular situations what the instructor/coach may have been thinking. In general, to minimize conflict, we recommend that during the first two weeks of the semester the students review their entire athletic activity schedule as well as their afternoon classes or labs. Consulting the “Potential Conflicts” information found on our website (see General Interest Question 5) may be quite useful to identify schedule conflicts as early as possible. Once a conflict has been identified, students should approach the instructor/coach to explain the situation and to find a solution together.

13. Right after the pre-registration, I found out that I was placed into the Wednesday evening section of a class I pre-registered for. I wrote to the professor and requested respectfully that I be moved to the morning section for fear of missing Wednesday evening classes due to athletic events. The professor did not approve of my request. Why?

Multiple sections of a course are offered for the good pedagogical reason of keeping class size relatively small. It is often important that sections be balanced, and that is done automatically by PeopleSoft under the oversight of the Registrar’s Office, taking into account every student’s class schedule. In this automatic section-balancing process, students’ athletic schedule is not taken into account, just as their, say, musical performance or interview schedule would not be taken into account. However, some professors have allowed students to switch sections with others, for instance, through WSO for a section swap if it would not compromise the balancing. Note that especially for labs, equipment and safety limitations can make last-minute requests very difficult to accommodate.

III. Questions from the perspective of Athletics and Academic Faculty

1. What is the Division of the Day policy with regard to Mountain Day? With regard to the day of Claiming Williams?

Regarding Mountain Day, it is the same as on any other academic day. Athletic practices are permitted after 4pm. Because the buses cannot get back to campus from Stony Ledge until about 6pm, athletes who have 4pm practices are encouraged to participate in the morning activities on Stone Hill and other community activities throughout the day.

Regarding Claiming Williams, practices are only held in the early morning, so that student-athletes can make it to the opening event and fully participate in the rest of the day’s events.

2. What is the procedure when student-athletes says they can’t make a practice or a game because of an academic event (e.g., lecture, discussion, or film required after 4 pm) that takes place during the Division of the Day? Should a coach report it somewhere?

The “Division of the Day” refers to classes being scheduled from 8 am until 4 pm, with evening classes on Monday and (for 2017-18) Wednesday evenings, 7-9:50 pm. With the exception of evening exams for multi-sectioned courses (with approval by the Committee on Calendar and Schedule), no required academic events are to be scheduled after 4pm. Athletic practices/ games and other extracurricular activities (dance, play practices, student group meetings, etc.) take place during the evening hours after 4 pm. However, there are often campus wide or department speakers, review sessions, career panels, and other academic events in the evening hours. Students should make careful individual choices about their attendance at these events and attendance at extracurricular activities when there are conflicts.

3. Whom should I contact if I’m unhappy that a student in my class has an academic/athletic conflict due to a game or match?

Talking with the student and then the coach may help solve the problem or clarify the issues. If it is a matter of Athletics Department policy, contacting the Athletics Director is recommended. The Athletics Committee Chair may also contacted; the Athletics Committee can provide consultation and information, but it does not adjudicate conflicts.

4. Why do students sometimes not know until the last minute that they will have an academic/athletic conflict due to a game or match?

At the end of their seasons, students may qualify for additional post-season play, where each round of competition may (or may not) lead to further competition. The venues may also be determined at the last minute. That said, students should be aware of the possibilities of extra play and travel and communicate these to their professors well ahead of time, ideally when they discuss any other potential conflicts during the semester.

5. Whom do I contact if my student says that the demands of athletics other than games or matches (e.g., informal practices arranged by fellow team members, team-led weight lifting, watching game film) are making it difficult for them to do their work in a timely fashion?

In most cases, it is best to contact the coach directly if you are concerned about what your student is telling you regarding the demands of athletic participation, especially those that might extend beyond direct game or practice conflicts. This often helps clear up miscommunication and/or leads to solutions. You are also always welcome to contact the Athletics Committee Chair and/or the Athletics Director if you feel it is a more systemic problem.

As noted earlier, when the conflict is for a game or match during the regular season, this should not be a surprise or a last-minute notification. The student should have notified you about this conflict early in the semester and asked to talk with you about how to make up the work, if possible. You might wish to consult the web page of potential conflicts just to make sure of the date and time of the competition.

6. Why do I see athletes practicing outside of the Division of the Day? Or out of season?

While team practices are always scheduled in accordance with Division of the Day, student-athletes or groups of student-athletes may choose to practice their sport on their own time, provided they don’t miss class. This can also include running, lifting, swimming, etc. With lifting in particular, it is important that student-athletes lift properly and under the guidance of a certified strength coach, which is why student-athletes will often find times throughout the day, before or between classes, when the gym isn’t overly packed and thus unsafe. Proper warmup before competition may also require students to arrive earlier than the start time, which is why they may be seen “practicing” before 4pm.

Out of season, student-athletes may choose to practice their sport on their own time. While they’re encouraged to find what balance is best for them, continuing to train is important for their physical and mental health, which is why they’ll often choose that option. And, despite the term’s prevalence, “captain’s practices” are not actually allowed per NESCAC rules—everything in the off-season should be optional.

7. Are athletes ever allowed to miss practice?

Yes. While all coaches expect their student-athletes to be committed to the team—and to develop good time-management skills—they understand that the rigors of Williams academics may sometimes conflict with practice. Different coaches have different rules regarding missed practice time, but at the end of the day, they want what is best for the student-athlete and, thus, by extension, what is best for the team.

8. How are new professors and new coaches educated about the kinds of academics-athletics issues addressed in this document?

These issues are discussed during the Dean of the Faculty’s new faculty orientation program during the late summer. Also, each year, the “First Three” orientation program for new tenure-stream and visiting faculty (academic and athletic) includes a lunch meeting panel/discussion that includes the Athletic Director and coaches as well as academic faculty (i.e., the “First Three” Coordinators).

General discussion of academics and athletics is a part of the interview process for coaches. Along with their team, they also attend the Athletics Directors’ meetings held at the beginning of each season for student athletes. Policies concerning the Division of the Day are discussed at Athletics Department meetings.