The Northwest Conference (NWC), to which Lewis & Clark’s sports programs belong, is celebrating 25 years in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in January 2021. The conference is composed of nine members, all of which are smaller private colleges in Oregon and Washington, and was first certified by the NCAA as part of its Division III in 1996.
While this is a significant milestone for LC’s athletic programs, the NWC was already quite old when it joined the NCAA. Founded in 1926, the NWC was one of the first organized athletic conferences on the West Coast. The first iteration of the NWC included sports teams from six colleges: Willamette University in Salem, Oregon; Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon; Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington; the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington; Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon; and the College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho. All of the founding schools except for the College of Idaho are still NWC members.
LC, which at the time was called Albany College, joined the conference in 1931, then dropped out in 1938. The college was preparing to move its main campus from Albany, Oregon, to Portland in 1939. After Albany College moved to the Fir Acres estate in 1942 and changed its name to “Lewis & Clark College,” it rejoined the conference in 1949, and LC has been a NWC member ever since.
The NWC remained separate from the NCAA, the organization that regulates most college sports in the U.S. and Canada, until 1996. According to its website, the NWC joined the NCAA out of a desire to “foster equity, sportsmanship and genuine concern for the student-athlete in all endeavors of competition.” Previous decisions in the NWC had been motivated by equity as well; for instance, in 1984 it merged with the Women’s Conference of Independent Colleges, changing from a male- only institution to a co-ed partnership.
NWC teams compete in NCAA’s Division III, the third and lowest tier of intercollegiate sports in the country. Division III schools are typically small and private, and cannot offer athletic scholarships, a privilege the NCAA only affords to Division I and Division II schools. There is an annual Division III football championship, the Stagg Bowl, but Division III sports teams otherwise do not often play teams outside their individual conferences and cannot face teams from other divisions.
So, what is the NWC doing to celebrate its 25th anniversary in the NCAA? Owing to restrictions on group activities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, little can be done. The NWC Presidents’ Council voted in August to suspend all conference competition in all sports until Jan. 1, 2021, and possibly further depending on the state of the pandemic. Nonetheless, the NWC has released a series of videos and articles on their website and social media platforms celebrating the anniversary, in which NWC Assistant Commissioner Rosie Phillips discusses accomplishments in the NWC with notable coaches and athletes from NWC member schools. LC’s features focus primarily on basketball. Phillips interviewed former LC Head Women’s Basketball Coach Juli Fulks, and a feature was posted to the NWC website on current Head Women’s Basketball Coach Kristina Williams ’13.