Northeastern Coach, AD Address Suspensions, Sanctions
CHN Staff Report
Monday, Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby and head coach Greg Cronin held an impromptu media conference, opening up for the first time about the suspension of Cronin and assistant coach Albie O'Connell for potential recruiting violations.
The school continues to investigate that situation, and will report its findings to the NCAA.
Cronin and O'Connell have been reinstated after three weeks, in time for this weekend's Hockey East quarterfinal playoff series against Boston University. Assistant coach Sebastien Laplante coached the team by himself in the absence of Cronin and O'Connell, and he will be suspended for three weeks next fall.
What follows are excerpts from the transcript of that event.
Peter Roby, athletic director
On what the nature of the violations were
Roby: What we came to understand is that we were using a communication tool in texting that is no longer allowed by the NCAA. Until such time as your prospective student athletes signs a national letter of intent, and once they are considered to sign the national letter of intent, there are no more restrictions on the type of communication or the number that you can engage in. So it was a combination of texting, which is not allowed, and phone calls that were either above the limit or too many in number, or it came before the dates that were allowed by the NCAA.
On why Sebastien Laplante was not initially suspended with the other coaches
Roby: Based on the information we had at the time, Sebatien didn¹t seem to be as overly involved as the other two; and secondly, we needed some continuity and leadership, and we felt that, given the first situation, that it was appropriate that we had someone on the staff to maintain the continuity and leadership, and to protect the welfare of the students. We didn't want to have a situation where someone that had no history or connection to the program to come in and lead us in competition, that just wouldn¹t be appropriate.
On why Laplante will sit out next fall
Roby: All of our staff have been engaged in some level of violation of the NCAA rules around communications, and so we want to send a message that despite that fact that we are really appreciative of the leadership that Sebatien has shown in at a very diffucult time, and I said that to the team just now, we also have to be consistent with accountability.
On how the violations were discovered
Roby: We were doing our on going internal audits of records as a way of adhering to NCAA and conference expectations around monitoring your programs that we uncovered the violations, and then as soon as we knew, at least initially, what the scope of it was, I thought it was appropriate that I send a message to this particular staff as well as the rest of our department, that violations of NCAA rules would not be tolerated under any circumstance. I wanted the message to be that all of us here at Northeastern who worked in the athletic department or participating as a student athlete have to view this as a privilege and not a right, and that when we violate the values of the department, or NCAA rules, that that privilege can be taken away
On how the length of suspension was determined
Roby: (You try) to say "OK, what's fair," and you, at least try to look at it from a standpoint of what other institutions have done and then what you think is important and appropriate based on your own set of values and what you¹ve communicated. I tried to take all of that into consideration and we got to a point where we said, "OK, this seems to have been enough of a price to pay for our coaches and our program, and its time to to put it behind us and move on."
On the role that the basketball team's prior suspension had on this decision
Roby: With respect to the rest of our athletic department, when we first made the announcement almost two years ago about the probation for basketball, at the first very first staff meeting and at meetings subsequent to the first one, we've made it a point of talking to everybody about how important it was that we do everything we can to adhere to NCAA rules and regulations, especially given that we were on probation. ... We think that what we have done is the appropriate thing to send a message to, internally as well as externally, that we are not going to tolerate any violation of the NCAA rules, and that if and when we are having the kind of success we have hoped for, that we are doing it the right way.
On the expectation of how the final report will go
Roby: If there were inadvertent small numbers of these kinds of things that they would not rise to the level of a major violation, but when you start to add them up, as we have in this case ... it's hard to rationalize or expect it to be seen as a minor violation. We are proceeding with the expectation and the understanding that it will potentially rise to a major violation status, and as a result, the self-imposed sanctions that we will need to implement and recommend to the NCAA will be reflective of that expectation. ... We have yet to figure out what all those self-imposed sanctions will be. Based on how this will flow over the next couple of weeks, we will pull all of our findings together and send it off to the NCAA with our self-imposed sanctions included, and then the committee on infractions will review what we send in, and they will make a determination as to whether ... they want more sanctions put in place, then they would let us know that.
On the relationship Roby has with Greg Cronin
Roby: Respectful, as it has been from the beginning. You are not going to be going out having dinner together and swapping stories during this kind of situation, because it does have an effect on a relationship. This is a situation where we are both professionals and we are both committed to wanting to do what is in the best interests of Northeastern and the program. Greg and I are colleagues and friends and will remain so after this.
On Cronin's job situation
Roby: We don't anticipate anyone losing their job over this, and it's one of the reasons why we felt the timing was appropriate, and that there was enough accountability on their part with respect to having been suspended for six games that we could end the suspension now and reinstate them.
Greg Cronin, head coach
On the job done in his absence
Cronin: Sebastien did a terrific job to coach a team under that gauntlet with BC, UNH, and BU without your coaching assets with you. ... Mark Phalan was able to transition from his Director of Operations position to being somewhat of a hybrid assistant coach in a fairly smooth way. And then it's nice that (2009 alum) Rob Rassey came in and helped out, and for me, that¹s kind of a reflection of the culture we ave here that's taken six years to build. Rob could step in after two years being away from our team and be on the bench and coach is pretty impressive.
On what returning means at this point
Cronin: We made mistakes. You really can't put any conditions on it, we made mistakes, and I think the school did what they felt they had to do. I was very impressed with the school. Peter and his compliance staff, with being professional about the process and being extremely quiet and thorough. You think about it, there was not a lot of news leaking out, as you guys know. That's a tough thing to manage. ... A part of you wants to get away from it all because it's painful to watch your team play on a small computer in the best time of the year, but I couldn't go away because I kept waiting for the answer.
On what the experience was like, especially compared to being at Maine during Shawn Walsh's suspension?
Cronin: There's a couple ways you do these things ... I don't know if this is a good or bad thing for me, but when we went through the situation at Maine, it was kind of a collaborated effort. Shawn was guilty; there was no way of trying to manipulate that. So the school, Susan Tyler and the staff there made a decision to get the attorneys together, and they were going to develop some sort of a plan that would appease the NCAA while salvaging Sean's future there. The easy thing to do would have been to fire Shawn, and then a lot of that would have gone away. But he had already been in trouble twice before, and the NCAA wasn't really thrilled with him. And the other way, which is what Northeastern did, is to try and huddle together as a compliance staff with the assistance of higher management and try to find out exactly what the volume of the problem is, and then get together with the coaches, and that's what they did. I don¹t know who has the blueprint of doing it correctly, but I think that they did it, from my perspective, they did it in an efficient way because it was done privately without being adversarial. Some of (the other similar situations) are adversarial — the coaching staff hires lawyers, and the compliance and bang each others heads, and then they come out with a conclusion, and then the NCAA comes to the process and metes out the punishment. There was no banging heads here, it was a fairly thorough, you know like I said, professional was the right word because nobody was trying to manipulate the data, or trying to paint anyone as the bad guy. It's never easy because you've got human beings and you've worked together. Albie's got three kids, nobody wants to see people suffer. I thought they did a good job.
On the relationship with Peter Roby now
Cronin: I think Peter is a very fair person. He is unique in that sense that he has a view of the world that he espouses to people around him including the athletic department. He wants things done the right way. He doesn't want people cheating. It could be whether you are not getting back to someone with a phone call or an email. He wants people to treat others the way they want to be treated, which I think is a really strong belief. It's hard to argue with that. You can't sit there and coach a hockey team and then tell your players that you want them to be respectful and fair and honest, and then you go out and lie and cheat or something like that.
On whether he is prepared to deal with sanctions
Cronin: I hope its not a loss of scholarship, but I think that's up to them, You know, with basketball, in terms of the bigger sports, they get the least scholarships, but hockey, that's a dent. Ya know, football, they've got 60-plus. I hope it's not. ... I've done a lot of research in the last few weeks on these cases. Some of them are like the one at UNH where you lose a recruiter perhaps, you may be able to recruit with only one man on the road instead of two for a certain amount of time, which clearly puts you at a disadvantage. They are going to have to explore those, that's kind of out of my area. Obviously the scholarship reduction would be the biggest one to manage.
On similarities with the New Hampshire case, where assistant Scott Borek sent out an improper amount of messages. New Hampshire ruled it a mistake, and the team has been on probation since April 2009.
Cronin: I think UNH¹s situation was driven from a database that they were pouring names into, and it was kind of a reflex reaction, where Scotty Borek was the one in charge, and I think when he hit the send button, he forgot that the body of players that were getting sent out, some of them were not of the legal age I guess. It was over a period of nine months. It's funny, because you look at all the cases, I mean, I look at them all, I mean the one at Texas Tech, the golf coach that banged out 500 text messages in 11 months and, he got one percentage of a scholarship taken away from his golf squad and what they've got. But there's so many different situations, and I don't know how they do it. I don't know how they give the penalties, but we have so few in hockey.
On meeting with the players
Cronin: I came in after Peter was done, and I just walked in the room and said, "The sheriff's back" and they all started laughing. They were all clapping, and they were all cheering and stuff. It was kind of cool. They're a good group of guys, and they have a lot of durability that shows when going 2-2-2 in that six game-stretch there. ... The team in 2009 that went to the Finals, they were a good group. They were more like a mature type of group of kids, like an AHL team with McCauley and Chism, and Vitale and Ginand and Donovan, they were just a bunch of men. These guys are young, and they've got this youthful way about them. Nothing bothers them. They always seem to be in good spirits, it's really interesting. You know when you walk into a group of people and they are a bunch of downers, you're like, "Holy smokes, let's go to the next room, right?" These guys are really upbeat. You wouldn't know if we won the game 3-2 or lost 3-2. And at first I thought, for me, you at least got to be pissed off for 20 hours when you lose a game. We had a trip in Bangor where we lost to Maine 4-2, we played ok, it wasn't great. I was down at breakfast the next morning, they were all hooting and hollering and laughing, I was like "What the hell is going on here?" So I was like, "What are they laughing about," I don't know, it's really bizarre. So I was like, "Guys, if you want to hoot and holler, do it when I leave the room, I don't want to hear it when I'm having breakfast and I'm still pissed off." But then ive learned that when I go in and they lose games, they are just able to like, "We are going to be able to show up and play at 7." And they are a good group of guys.