Between the Lines: Vermont Shouldn't Look for Scapegoats
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
[Note: since the time of this writing, the University of Vermont has announced that it will cancel the remainder of the men's hockey season due to findings related to the current hazing scandal.]
A court sanction, brought on by Freedom of Information Act litigation, has forced the University of Vermont to make public its records of an in-house investigation regarding the recent hazing allegations surrounding the hockey program.
The investigation determined that every player on the team was involved in some way in, at the very least, under-age drinking, possession of false IDs and/or distribution of alcohol to minors — in other words, the same thing that occurs on every college campus, sports or no sports. As a result, head coach Mike Gilligan decided to suspend every player for one game (with the suspensions staggered, rather than forfeit a game).
Until now, there had only been speculation as to why certain players were sitting out games, but the opening of the documents forced school officials to discuss it.
"All sitting out one game ... is being unfair to the league and to opponents and to the fans, and I don't think it's a deterrent to any degree," he said. "I think we suffer as a team much, much more from having a young man sit out each and every game, to adjust the lines and to have the boys reminded every single Friday and Saturday night that what they did was wrong."
Let's forget the obvious conflict of interest Gilligan has in making this decision, and let's go back to the beginning.
Documents say school officials met with the hockey team in October, two weeks before the rookie initiation party, after concerns were raised by then-team member Corey LaTulippe. They drilled the players on the hazing policy, asked whether anyone had ever been hazed, or whether hazing would be taking place at the party.
Imagine that when the players all said "no."
Athletic Director Richard Farnham seems to think the players weren't lying, but that they merely misunderstood what hazing actually meant.
"I think you have a tremendously different understanding of what hazing is," he said.
Has anyone seen Kenneth Starr?
Like gambling, some people do it anyway, but everyone knows the rules about it. To think the kids answered "no" because they weren't clear on the definition of hazing, is preposterous. And, as if that matters.
Not feeling the school took proper measures to stop the activity, or punish those involved afterward, LaTulippe filed suit on Dec. 10 claiming freshmen were forced to parade naked while holding one another's genitals, drink warm beer and liquor and eat until they vomited.
According to the school's investigation, however, that never happened.
"We identified improper alcohol use and we've taken the proper sanctions," Farnham said.
I'm not about to sit here high and mighty and condemn Gilligan or the school for looking the other way on underage drinking and the like. We know these things happen all the time, everywhere, and it doesn't really bother me. Had the hazing allegations never happened, the sanctions for the underage drinking never would have been necessary because no one would've known. I have no problem with that either.
But does anyone really think LaTulippe would risk what he's gone through just because he was annoyed at some minor freshman rituals and illegalities involving the drinking law?
I've personally asked numerous hockey players what they went through in their freshman initiations, even some who have played before for UVM. None of them did anything as severe as what's being described here. Especially these days, even junior teams, once a bastion for the sick and perverse, have calmed things down after various nationwide investigations. All teams know where the line is. This is not something that has been going on in the past at UVM. For some reason, this group of upperclassmen may have decided to raise the stakes.
The state's attorney general is currently investigating the matter. Of course, politicians will often point to underage drinking and proclaim horror, then find some scapegoat to put on the chopping block. Let's hope that doesn't happen. But if the attorney general finds severe hazing violations, even Gilligan admits that more penalties will be necessary.
Am I sure all of LaTulippe's allegations happened? No. But it seems obvious that something happened beyond what UVM found in its investigation.
Universally, Gilligan is considered one of the greatest gentlemen in hockey. If he becomes the scapegoat for this, it would be a shame. Word is, retirement has been on his mind already. Hopefully, he won't have to go out with this as his lasting memory. For all anyone thinks of him as a coach, good or bad, no hockey fan should wish for that.