If you reached into my T-shirt drawer and pulled one out randomly, you would have a 50/50 chance of pulling out an Empire 8 Championship shirt.
I’ve been on the winning Empire 8 Championship team nine times as a three-year member of the men’s cross-country, and indoor and outdoor track and field teams. But I’m not here to brag about winning shirt after shirt. I think it represents a problem in the conference.
Though my teammates and I complete in the only sport where athletes can win multiple conference championships in one year, it is becoming more obvious that most Ithaca College teams have become too dominant and perhaps overwhelming as opponents in the conference. During the 2013–14 year, Bomber teams won 15 conference championships, which is roughly 60 percent of total championships contested each year.
The Blue and Gold were members of the Empire Athletic Association until 1999 when the conference became the Empire 8. Since then, there are many sports where the Bombers have rolled over opponents year after year, like the women’s cross-country team that has taken every conference title since 2003.
Just look at the demographics of the Bombers’ conference competition. Last year, the college’s enrollment was 6,234 undergraduates, while the next-highest number in the E8 conference was St. John Fisher College with 2,959 undergraduates. To say there’s a mismatch is an understatement.
I’m not discrediting the hard work of fellow Bombers, but there’s clearly an advantage when the Blue and Gold’s seven conference opponents have less than half the enrollment to draw from. I also realize that the conference is very competitive in some sports like softball, basketball and lacrosse, but ask almost any team during its preseason, and I’m sure it’ll say winning the conference is a goal, if not an expectation. If it becomes an expectation for some teams, then winning the conference so easily can be a disadvantage come postseason time, given the lack of competitive games.
So why does the college stick around in the E8? One of the biggest reasons is football, and that’s not surprising, because football games pull in the highest gate receipts of all varsity teams.
According to D3football.com, as of October 2013, the Empire 8 is ranked No. 5 out of 28 for best football conference in Division III. The E8 now has nine football teams, but Buffalo State College, SUNY Brockport, Salisbury University and Frostburg State University are all affiliate members just for football. Better yet, SUNY Cortland and Morrisville State University will become the next affiliates in the conference, meaning that less than half of the Empire 8 conference in football will have full-time conference members. Even if the college eventually decided to switch or realign conferences, the football program couldstay in the E8, since the majority of its conference members are affiliates now, anyway.
This transition would likely create more intense conference postseason competition — though it’s always nice to have some extra championship shirts to wear at night.