September 5, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

A Look Inside BU's Findings

by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer

BOSTON — Boston University released the findings and recommendations of a task force convened in March to investigate the culture of the men's hockey program in the wake of two players being charged with sexual assault just two months apart.

Also see: BU president Robert Brown's letter | CHN news story

Obviously this report leaves us with some important questions. What, exactly, is going to change? And will it be enough?

We know that two of the task force's 14 recommendations have already been implemented. Jack Parker has stepped down as executive director of athletics and will now serve solely as the men's hockey coach, and the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP) has been established to provide care and counseling for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

These are both good. The report recommends eliminating the executive director of athletics position (which was a higher position than director of athletics) in order to "establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability between the coach, the Athletic Director, and the President of the University." This move should accomplish that, because now Parker has to answer to the same people as every other coach. It prevents any coach, in this case Parker, from being the most powerful person in the whole athletic department. He won't necessarily have final say on everything involving the hockey program.

No coach should be more powerful than the AD. Coaches who remain at one school for a long time tend to become more and more powerful as time goes on, but it's important that schools around the country start to realize that there should be limits. Though it's an extreme example, the Joe Paterno situation exemplified this problem, albeit clearly not limited to Penn State. Hopefully this trend continues across the NCAA.

Creating SARP was an obvious and necessary step as well. BU's on-campus sexual assault resources weren't nearly as good as they should have been, and unfortunately it took these arrests, along with a few other non-sports-related incidents last year, for everyone to realize that. This will hopefully give victims the help they need and deserve.

Among the other 12 recommendations, the one that stuck out the most was no longer allowing student-athletes to enroll in Metropolitan College (MET). The report says that while there are no clear systemic problems, "the academic performance of the men's ice hockey team falls below that of the undergraduate student body as a whole." Of course, that often applies to any big-time sports program at any university, but nonetheless the task force recommends reviewing admissions standards for recruits and providing better mentoring for the hockey team.

Not allowing players to enroll in MET ties into that. MET is generally considered the least demanding school at BU, as its focus is on night classes, part-time students and international students. Not many full-time undergrads enroll in MET, but more than a few student-athletes do. Putting an end to that should increase the academic demands of student-athletes at least a little bit.

Some of the recommendations are pretty general and expected, but another that stands out is providing hockey players with sexual assault prevention training from a "reputable specialty organization that has expertise in evidence-based best practices."

Before now, BU's student-athletes were taught about sexual assault every year, but it was done by the athletics department. Bringing in another organization to take charge of that training will hopefully make the lessons more effective and make the message sink in more. The same goes for alcohol and drug prevention programs, where the task force makes a similar recommendation.

The task force's findings and implementing its recommendations should absolutely make a difference. But don't mistake this for a complete overhaul. Ultimately, the BU men's hockey program will look very much the same as it did before all this. And that's OK.

BU hockey didn't need a complete overhaul. The school needed to act, because when two players are arrested in two months, you can't just stand idly by. But overreacting might have been just as bad as not acting. You can't condemn an entire program or an entire university because of two incidents (and this is where it's worth pointing out that all charges against Nicastro have since been dropped).

As the task force said in its report, no NCAA infractions occurred, and its assessment of the team's recent disciplinary history "did not reveal a pattern of infractions that was significantly different, in type or number, from the undergraduate population as a whole." BU handled this the right way. When you read the task force's methodology, you understand that they put a lot of work into this, talked to a lot of people, and considered all of their recommendations carefully. They were transparent, and this wasn't a so-called whitewash, as many people feared it would be back in the spring.

In the report, the task force says its assessment "has shown that a culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus." That seems to be the line every news organization in Boston is running with right now, but is that really something we didn't already know?

Of course it's not. Anyone who follows any big-name team, be it college or professional, knows that athletes are put on a pedestal, and knows it probably goes to their heads. That's a problem across America and across the world, not just at BU. Nothing this task force did was going to change that. Hockey players will still be worshipped at BU, and they will still be cut more slack than your average student. There will still be a "celebrity culture." Oh, and we already knew that hockey players, and lots of other college students, have casual sex. That doesn't mean they're more likely to sexually assault someone.

The task force also points to players being drafted by NHL teams before they even get to school as a contributing factor to that culture. While other sports don't have to deal with players being drafted before school, they still have to deal with future pros feeling entitled or being uninterested in class. Even if a top football or basketball prospect hasn't been drafted yet, he still knows the pros are waiting for him if he decides to leave school.

So once again, that isn't a problem unique to BU hockey, or even college hockey. And it certainly isn't a problem this task force could've fixed. Student-athletes on popular teams are going to feel entitled, especially if they're a few years away from making millions of dollars. In order to ever change that, you would have to start at the prep and junior levels, or even earlier. That's when everyone starts telling an athlete how special he is and how great his future is.

Sure, some athletes come from more humble backgrounds and don't get their first taste of the spotlight until college, but most players with a professional future have already been in it for years before they get to college.

So while these recommendations won't really change that celebrity culture, they will hopefully better equip everyone to handle it. Hopefully coaches and administrators will be more aware that it exists, and hopefully they will do a better job of making sure hockey players understand how to deal with it and how to conduct themselves away from the rink.

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