After three years of consideration and planning, the NESCAC announced that Hamilton College will become a full member of the conference in the 2011-12 academic year.

While Hamilton has competed as a part of the NESCAC in certain sports for many years, it will now compete in all 28 conference sports.

The process began three years ago, when Hamilton requested to come fully into the league.

Bowdoin's Director of Athletics Jeff Ward said that Hamilton wanted to join because the administration believed that "philosophically, they are best aligned with the NESCAC and that both the experience and identity are important to them."

Upon the request, the presidents of the NESCAC colleges asked the athletic directors to explore the option, focusing specifically on the costs and the impact on student life.

In the end, "The presidents felt that the overall cost wasn't as bad as they thought it would be," Ward said.

The change will be expensive for Hamilton, but the financial ramifications for the other schools will vary based on how many times they compete against the Continentals in a given year.

While Ward said that he is unsure what the final cost to Bowdoin will be, he estimated that it would be "in the neighborhood of $20,000."

After the presidents officially decided to make Hamilton a full member last spring, the athletic directors worked to make the transition as painless as possible.

"President Mills talked to me a lot about being creative and coming up with ways that it would not affect student life as much," Ward said, adding that his primary focus was minimizing the impact of travel.

Hamilton is approximately a seven-hour drive from Bowdoin, and the athletic department hopes to blunt the effect of the long drive in a variety of ways.

During the fall and winter seasons, games against Hamilton will often be part of a double-header weekend with Amherst, which breaks up the trip for the teams.

In the winter, many of the games will also be played over Winter Break. For spring sports, some teams will compete against Hamilton over Spring Break, and many games will be played at a neutral site that has not yet been determined.

Despite the challenges of incorporating Hamilton fully, Ward said that the change was definitely worthwhile and added that it shows that the NESCAC is becoming more than simply about athletics.

"The NESCAC is becoming a powerful brand," he said. "The identity is not as strong as the Ivy League yet, but it's definitely building that way."

He added that being a member of the NESCAC is an "agreement to think of athletics as the right compliment to the academic experience."

The addition of Hamilton brings the number of NESCAC schools to 11, and Ward doesn't believe that that number will be changing in the foreseeable future.

"There has never been any real talk about adding another school," he said. "I'll never say never, but there's no appetite to do that right now."