Note Sept. 27, 2019, on your calendars, North Idaho College sports fans.
Somewhere down the line, look back on it and do some comparison work.
On Sept. 27, Al Williams will formally retire as the school’s athletic director. His tenure at the sports helm, which spans more than 16 years, comes to an end. How will the Cardinals fare going forward?
The bet here is not well. At least, not up to the standards Williams strove for and consistently achieved.
Part of that wager is based on the fact that the school is getting clobbered by the many-tentacled, 36-member Northwest Athletic Conference. Because of two alleged offenses — neither of which rose to the level of indiscretion made at other NWAC schools that were punished far less severely — NIC must pay an outrageous $30,000 fine, relinquish many of the athletic honors its basketball program legitimately earned, and field basketball teams over the next three years that will have a minuscule complement of scholarship players compared to conference foes.
Williams will move on. The man who once starred as an NIC guard and will forever bleed Cardinal red is clearly taking one for the team by retiring now. He’s 60 and could probably hold his own against some of Coach Corey Symons’ current squad. His passion and professionalism will be desperately missed, but there’s another reason to think a sustained downward slide might be in NIC’s future if the school stays in the NWAC.
Embittered foes accuse NIC of buying championships when in fact NIC simply does a far better job than others of raising funds. Williams has had a lot to do with that. He’s the kind of person others want to be around and to support. NIC’s booster club embraces Williams not just because he’s a winner and a fine man, but because so many of his players have excelled in the classroom and through community service.
Where the boosters go from here is unknown. As a letter to the editor today from one of them, Robert Cliff, suggests, there will be fallout. Other big boosters have indicated they might follow Cliff’s lead. And in some corners, there are even dire predictions that the booster club will fold.
North Idaho College athletics is at a crossroads. Williams’ legacy of excellence is assured. It’s regrettable that the aftermath could look like a shambles.