I bet college hockey coaches wish the season could start as soon as the players get to campus to start classes, but that isn’t the case. As a result, the players have about a month of structured, but less-regimented team responsibilities and more free time than normal.
It is college. These kids have fun, as they should. Sometimes they might have a little too much fun.
The University of North Dakota announced today that senior Andrew MacWilliam, the team’s captain, and alternates Danny Kristo, Corban Knight and Carter Rowney are suspended for the team’s opening game of the season against the University of Alaska Anchorage. The sanctions come from a party held on Sept. 15.
“The behavior in this situation was unacceptable,” said North Dakota AD Brian Faison in a statement. “Measures taken by the athletics department do not preclude possible additional measures by the department, or actions by the University or local and state authorities.”
Pay special attention to that last sentence. This might not be over yet.
“Recent actions by our team are not a good representation of our place as role models within our community,” North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol said in the release. “We have young men of high character in our locker room, but our players, and in particular our leaders, must be accountable for their actions.”
Suspending the captains likely suggests that this was an event much of or the entire team took part in. You can’t suspend everybody I guess, so the captains take the fall and the message is sent to the rest of the club.
Details of the party are scant, but based on the comments from Faison, it could be bad news for the hockey team. Still there’s not enough to pass judgment, but outside examination of the coming weeks will prove important.
The North Dakota hockey players have been renowned partiers and have had run-ins with the law in the past like the great Matt Frattin lawnmower incident. Punishments have been doled out, some more severe than others and certain players have grown from their mistakes and hopefully this happens again.
After the Boston University task force report and subsequent Boston Globe story suggesting a culture issue within the school’s men’s hockey team, there is an increased sensitivity to disciplinary action stemming from alcohol-related incidents in athletic departments everywhere.
We all know that college is a time for exploration and partying for many, but there is a line that has to be obeyed by all students, especially those in the public eye.
The players at North Dakota have an elevated social status on campus. They are essentially local celebrities in that regard and there is the danger of a culture similar to the one at BU developing. That’s not to say such a culture exists at North Dakota. There’s no need for me or any outside observer to make that assumption based on such limited info. A very similar recipe for disaster exists, however, and that’s true for many other hockey programs across the country.
A single-game suspension is a positive first step, without knowing the full details, but the swiftness of the action and the public comments made by university officials certainly appear to send a message to the players and the public.
Additionally, the school unveiled other disciplinary measures it has taken which include probation for the entire team in which other violations could bring steeper penalties, mandatory community service and, perhaps most importantly, weekly team alcohol education.
The biggest step any school can and must take in these situations is education. Not all players are going to be receptive to it, but to ignore the topic all together would be a failing of any athletic department. Creating awareness and perhaps some assemblance of understanding could help stem a more frequent avoidance of potentially detrimental situations.
You certainly have to give these student-athletes some leash to grow personally, which is why education is important. They don’t need or deserve babysitters, but they should be armed with at least some knowledge of the impact of their actions and the consequences attached.
These issues exist, they are happening with increased regularity and without further preventative actions from college athletics programs, they won’t decrease. These universities have the assets to do better for their student-athletes and overall student body.
The measures now put in place at BU and North Dakota deserve watching as they could prove to be an important guide for other programs if found in similar situations.