BU Task Force Has Parker's Blessing
'We're Very, Very Concerned,' Coach Says of Recent Arrests
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
BOSTON In the wake of Max Nicastro being charged with two counts of rape — the second time in 10 weeks a Boston University hockey player has been charged with a sexually-related offense — the school has found itself surrounded by difficult questions. Everyone from students to alumni to outsiders with no connection to the school whatsoever has asked the same thing: What is going on at BU? Are these arrests indicative of a larger problem with the hockey program?
On Thursday, university president Robert Brown announced the creation of a task force assigned with finding answers to those questions. In an email sent to BU students and colleagues, Brown said the university "will do whatever is necessary to restore the Boston University community’s confidence in the men’s ice hockey program."
"We will ask the task force to look at our program with fresh, impartial eyes to determine whether the culture of hockey at BU meets the high standards of our academic community," Brown said in a subsequent press release. "If it does not, if the task force finds a culture where players are privileged or entitled or held to lesser standards, it will recommend changes to the way we think about and manage our hockey program."
It comes at a good time, since sources indicate that some prominent recruits may be having second thoughts about coming to BU in the aftermath of the latest charges.
The task force will comprise university trustees, overseers, faculty and staff. Its membership and work plan will be announced in the next several weeks. Brown said he will ask for a report from the task force early in the summer so that the university can address any issues before the 2012-13 academic year.
The task force was created with the full support of coach Jack Parker, athletic director Mike Lynch and Bob Knox, the chairman of the university's board of trustees. In the press release, Brown praised Parker's leadership in calling for a full and transparent examination of the hockey culture on campus.
Earlier in the week, Parker told The Boston Globe that he hoped the two arrests were "a horrible coincidence" and that if there is a culture problem, it will be "dealt with severely."
This is not the first time Parker has had to answer questions about off-ice behavior in recent years. After the 2009-10 season, it came to light that the entire team had been punished for an incident that occurred two nights before the Hockey East semifinals, when more than a dozen players went out drinking on a night they weren't allowed to. At the time, Parker said the coaching staff needed to make more of an effort to be in tune with what was going on away from the rink.
Parker said on Thursday that he thought they had taken strides in that area.
"I thought we made progress," Parker said. "I thought we took more action to try to get more information. What we have to look at is, 'What else can we do?' We think we're doing more than a lot of other schools do. We have to look at what else we can do to make these kids better able to handle their situation here as a BU hockey player and as a student."
Parker said the coaches talk to players before every season about problems that have arisen in the past and how they can avoid them. He said Nicastro and Corey Trivino being arrested so close together "points to a problem of control and drinking."
"Those are things we talk about all the time at the beginning of the year," Parker said. "We lay down ground rules and talk about actions and consequences, and specific consequences regarding specific actions, having to do with drugs, alcohol and the way you treat people around here. We'll talk some more about that, obviously, but we lay down the ground rules of what we want."
If these two incidents are indicative of a larger problem, though, there has clearly been a breakdown somewhere along the way. One possible explanation could be that players aren't holding each other accountable and aren't looking out for each other off the ice. Parker said he doesn't think these arrests reflect on the team captains at all, but added that the school is in the process of looking into leadership and accountability.
Another possible explanation could be that the coaches are not recruiting players with the right character. Parker, however, said he and his staff always take character into account and go to great lengths to make sure they're not bringing in problem players.
"I think one of the things we really try to do is make sure we recruit good character," Parker said. "We do it in a lot of different ways, as far as finding out about parents, finding out about school reports, a whole bunch of different things. I don't think this is a matter of we've recruited bad character kids who came here and acted up. I think it's a matter of kids got here and didn't know how to handle stuff that was going on."
While the Trivino and Nicastro cases play out in court, and the university task force begins its study of the climate and culture of the hockey program, Parker and the Terriers will try to refocus on hockey. They road trip to Vermont for a pair of games this weekend.
"One of the things," Parker said, "we want to make sure is, 'Hey guys, go about your business like you're supposed to. Go to class. I know this is difficult. I know people are probably staring at you in the dorms and in the cafeterias, but you've got to be a student-athlete around here and take the next right step.' The next right step for us is getting on a bus and going to Vermont."
The Terriers are currently sixth in the Pairwise and third in the Hockey East standings, just two points behind first-place Boston College. They have defied expectations by remaining a top team despite Trivino's dismissal and Charlie Coyle's departure for major juniors back in December. Now they must attempt to overcome another off-ice problem and another loss of a teammate.
"This team has proven they can stay focused in difficult situations," Parker said. "They're being challenged here. This is a very, very hard time for everybody in that dressing room. This is a very, very hard time for our coaching staff. This is a very hard time for our athletic department and our student body and our university.
"We don't discount the fact that the Boston University hockey team has put Boston University on the front page in a negative way twice in the last two and a half months. That's something that we're very, very concerned about. These kids know that, and they feel that."