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ACM Voices - Summer 2015

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In the Summer 2015 issue of ACM Notes

ACM Athletic Tournaments Combine Competition and Collaboration

Guest columnist: Jackie Slaats, Director of Athletics & Senior Advisor to the President, Lake Forest College

Jackie Slaats

Jackie Slaats

The ACM has strong roots in athletics. The consortium was formed more than 55 years ago by the ten colleges that belonged to the Midwest Collegiate Athletic Conference. Their aim was to add academic collaboration to their athletic collaboration and competition.

Though the 14 ACM institutions now compete in various athletic conferences [see the sidebar below], the athletic directors of the member colleges have been working together in recent years to sponsor ACM athletic tournaments that are rekindling those historic athletic traditions.

Following are excerpts from a conversation with Jackie Slaats, Director of Athletics at Lake Forest College, about the increasing consortial collaboration on the athletic front.

You serve as chair of the ACM athletic directors group and have been very involved in getting this collaboration off the ground. How did it get started?

This has been evolving for close to a decade now. The athletic directors first met in early 2007 at the suggestion of [ACM President] Chris Welna, and then met again in 2008. That fall Macalester, Carleton, and St. Olaf hosted the first tournament, in soccer, to mark ACM's 50th Anniversary.

2014 ACM Volleyball Tournament

Teams in the 2014 ACM Volleyball Tournament at Grinnell.

Over the years we've tried to schedule tournaments in some different sports in order to figure out what events work best. We've certainly made great strides in a short time frame, and appreciate the support we have received from Chris and [consultant] Andrew Knap in helping us get organized.

More recently, the ADs have begun meeting annually at the NCAA Convention in January. Along with our ACM tournament agenda, we talk about NCAA issues and legislation and also have sort of a think tank on hot topics affecting institutions like ours, such as Division III recruiting guidelines, how the Affordable Care Act affects assistant coaches, etc.

There's such incredible diversity in the types and philosophies of institutions at the Division III level that it's really nice to have a group of people with similar goals and values, and where the student-athlete experience is clearly of utmost importance. That's been a real positive of this collaboration.

Athletics at ACM Colleges

ACM Athletic Tournaments


Midwest Conference: Beloit, Cornell, Grinnell, Knox, Lake Forest, Lawrence, Monmouth, Ripon
Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Carleton, Macalester, St. Olaf
Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference: Coe, Luther
Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference: Colorado

What do you see as the benefits of these tournaments for Lake Forest College?

My goal as an AD, and why I've worked as hard as I have to champion the ACM competition, is that I think this kind of non-conference competition gives us a great opportunity to play schools that are more like us than some of our other non-conference competition. It just makes a lot of sense to compete with institutions that prioritize excellence in both academics and athletics.

I also think that it's fun for our student-athletes to see other ACM schools, to be on other campuses that share similar institutional values, and to really learn more about what the ACM brings to all of our colleges. We all have our athletic leagues, but I think that tying the ACM tournaments to the academic aspects that we value is part of what makes the ACM tournaments different and special.

We've tried several different ideas at the tournaments — teams eating together, partnering with Special Olympics for team activities, a museum excursion — and continue to fine-tune ways to make each ACM tournament meaningful for the participants.

There were ACM tournaments in both soccer and volleyball last year, and on September 11-13 Macalester will host eight teams for a volleyball tournament. What are the future plans?

There are a lot of moving parts in athletic scheduling, and it took us some time to figure out what sports might work and what cycle works. We tried competitions in several different sports, but volleyball and soccer have really resonated. We then decided on an alternating year cycle for those two sports and are getting good participation from the member colleges.

On September 9-11, 2016, we'll host men's and women's soccer teams from Coe, Lawrence, and Macalester at Lake Forest. Beyond that, we're still hearing back from teams, but it looks like volleyball may head to Colorado College for competition in 2017 and soccer to Grinnell in 2018.

We're also hoping to get some stand-alone events into the mix at some point, and there's strong interest in having an ACM basketball tournament, perhaps in 2020.

What are you looking forward to when you host the soccer tournament on your campus next year?

As the host, we get to figure out what we want to showcase, and that's a unique opportunity. Since we're so close to Chicago and that's where the ACM office is, we're certainly looking to do something in the city.

The tournament will be played over three days, with Saturday afternoon and evening providing an opportunity for a collaborative participant event. Our goal is to make it a special experience for the ACM student-athletes.

What's on the horizon for the group?

At our meetings we always talk about the upcoming tournaments, but we also spend time looking at other potential synergies and activities with the ACM.

One possibility that's come up is to sponsor some type of experience for graduating student-athletes — potentially putting together a team of ACM seniors from various institutions to compete in another country.

Another idea we've talked about, that I think is really exciting, is to partner in options for off-campus study and travel for student-athletes. It can often be difficult for athletes to schedule around their sports seasons and training to study away for a semester, and it would be great if we could do something collaboratively to enrich their academic experience.

A third example might be to sponsor an ACM program where a faculty member would lead a group of student-athletes to another country, with the travel component outside of sports seasons. It could focus on an academic topic that ties in with sports, such as the sociology of sports, or the economics of hosting an Olympics, or a trip to Greece that focuses on the history of sport.

When we met this past January at the NCAA Convention, we made a point of celebrating the fact we have now met for five consecutive years and how far we've come during that time. We now have regularly scheduled tournaments, we've made significant progress in planning future events, and we're collaborating more than we ever have before on athletic matters. All in all, we're proud of what we've accomplished and excited about what the future holds.

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This column was written for the Summer 2015 issue of the ACM Notes newsletter for faculty and administrators.

Copyright 2015