Between the Lines

Much of what there is to say about Vermont’s hazing situation was covered in the last BTL column. The recent report by Vermont’s Office of the Attorney General only confirmed what seemed obvious — that Vermont’s administration mishandled the self-investigation into the party that led to hazing charges and a lawsuit by former walk-on candidate Corey Latulippe.

Within a couple weeks of the last column, in the face of mounting evidence, Vermont’s administration became convinced players lied in the original investigation (no kidding) and cancelled the rest of the hockey season.

But while many of my colleagues have been quick to condemn the players involved in this incident, and quick to support the university’s decision, I find myself going against the grain.

Let’s get this clear first: The last thing I want to be is an apologist for the players and their actions. And the last thing I ever want to do is add fuel to the fire of the moronic “Latulippe is a money-grubber who should suck it up like a man” faction.

But the rapid-fire demonization of the entire Vermont hockey team, in particular captain and party host Kevin Karlander, has forced me to take what seems to be an opposite position. It’s not opposite at all: it’s just less reactionary.

Vermont’s administration had a similarly knee-jerk reaction to the unfolding events when it cancelled the season in January. Was there not a better way to handle the situation, one that took into consideration UVM’s obligation to the other members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference?

UVM President Judith Ramaley’s decision smelled like an attempt to cover for the school’s own failures. Players lied to investigators, yes, but that was pretty clear in November. The school didn’t want to believe anything bad happened, and when it was so publicly clear that it did, they jumped in with an overreaction in order to show they were taking a stand.

The existing mentality that creates this kind of behavior far predates the 1999-2000 Vermont hockey team. But you’d have thought by the reaction of the Governor of Vermont that he’s never heard of such appalling behavior before.

Let’s not stick our head in the sand and make believe this kind of thing hasn’t been going on for 100 years. If anything, these kinds of things have unquestionably subsided in hockey over recent years. The Vermont incident was clearly over the line and upsetting, especially because we thought progress was being made — and it is, in many places.

Had the powers that be just addressed the complexities of the issue and not resorted to political posturing, it would have been a lot more productive.

At the Feb. 3 press conference in the wake of the report, President Ramaley said:

“Some will encourage us to leap to simplistic solutions. As H.L. Mencken once said, ‘For every complex problem, there is a simple solution. And it is always wrong.’ We will find genuine solutions that will require effective strategies.”

Perhaps a similar approach could have been used in early January.

Kevin Karlander went on to make a politically fatal move. He allowed his emotions to run wild during an interview with the New York Times.

“We would never do anything to hurt our own teammate,” said Karlander to the Times. “The governor made a political move to end our season so he could say ‘Hazing will not be allowed.’ The governor? The attorney general? Are you kidding me? It’s a college! We’re getting hung out to dry. We’re being made an example of.”

On the face of it, you can say Karlander clearly doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand the harm that’s been done and what he did wrong. Maybe true. But he also doesn’t get how to be a politician and make cover-your-ass, hollow statements to the press. And is it so farfetched to think a politician was acting purely like a politician?

Karlander has been charged with a misdemeanor for serving alcohol to minors, as well he should. But I’m not going to be the one to sit here and pass judgment on Kevin Karlander. None of us know Kevin Karlander, except that he’s captain of a team that a had a wild party, and that he’s a young man about to graduate college who suddenly finds himself in a lot of trouble.

Does this excuse any of the behavior? No, it does not. Does it make it easier to forgive it? Yes, I think it does.

The argument that “boys will be boys” or “this is the way it’s always been done” is silly. The same could have been said for slavery at some point. But just as silly is making UVM’s players out to be high criminals. Saying “hazing has always been done” is not an excuse for the behavior to continue, but it does make it easier to understand how otherwise decent kids could participate.

We all speed, even though we know it’s wrong. Why? Because it’s accepted. In the hockey world, hazing is accepted, and even expected. It doesn’t make it right, but it does make it easier to understand how it can happen without resorting to demonizing those involved.

The Board of Trustees Chair at Vermont, Frank Bolden, said it perfectly in his remarks at a press conference the day the report was released. In talking about the culture of hazing, Bolden exudes a rational understanding of the issue that goes beyond Vermont and a simple condemnation of those involved.

“Hearing the players talk, hearing of the humiliations they endured, how they pretended in some respects that what they were doing was not really happening — all of this was most sobering. Yet these same players talked more. We heard of the importance of tradition and other aspects of the value of the initiations they experienced and those they imposed on others. Consequently, just some of the challenges of effectively combating hazing came into focus.

“The freshmen have spent much of their lives striving to become members of an elite team. They want to be accepted. They want to show that they can be relied upon in times of adversity. It is their elders, established members of the group, who have asked or demanded that they undergo these trials, trials they have endured themselves. The rewards of acceptance far outweigh the pains of initiation. With graduation they will lose some members of their group. The team needs new members next year and the years following in order to survive and excel. They wish to do their part during their time to contribute to the life of the team.

” … We have seen and heard of many actual examples of hazing in its many manifestations involving sports teams and social organizations from the high school level to well into adulthood. Reports have ranged from the silly to the deadly. …

“The challenges to students and administrators at UVM and to many other Vermonters are clear: to learn from this experience, to take appropriate corrective actions and to work together to change attitudes and behaviors. Individuals must be empowered to become committed and fully contributing members of teams and organizations without having to pay such a painful price for admission.”

For as repugnant as the description of events sounds, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t on the team. I don’t know how the events went down, what the tone of them was, who were the ringleaders and who quietly went along. I was at many parties in my day that “got out of hand.” And I’ve also seen overblown news reports of the events of those parties, not in the details, but in the tone.

No, I am not doubting the details in the UVM report. I think it paints a very clear and unambiguous picture of events. And I certainly am not doubting or belittling how Latulippe felt afterwards. Latulippe and all the rest of the freshman have every right to be angry, mad, humiliated, scarred, pained … and they have right to redress their grievances.

I do not condone these types of “bonding” exercises. I think they are totally unnecessary, and flat out wrong. I disdain the notion of publicly humiliating someone just for sport. I understand the sports culture, and I appreciate the sentiment of team bonding, but there are better ways of accomplishing this goal than via the “elephant walk.”

But let’s not be hypocrites in this situation. Let’s not be so quick to brand a scarlet letter on the back of every Vermont player from the last three years.

I don’t need to re-read Lord of the Flies to understand mob mentality. It’s around us every day.

The mob mentality that leads to out-of-control hazing rituals is no different than the mob mentality that leads to the public flogging of those involved. Like the mentality that pictures our entire youth as Satan-worshipping pseudo-psycho mass murderers just because one kid who listened to German hardcore metal music decided to go on a school shooting rampage.

We live in a world where the highest-rated show on cable television is the profanity-laden and borderline pornographic WWF’s Raw is War. Where daughters of boxing legends challenge each other to fights. Where fans boo the injured stars of opposing teams. Where Howard Stern is the King of all Media.

And I participate in plenty of it.

We raise our kids … We make the laws … We set the example. For Kevin Karlander to be made the whipping boy out of fears of our own failures is as abhorrent as the activities he participated in.

This issue is too complex to simply say the players should be punished, and then wash our hands of it.

In various news articles recently, players have come out defending their actions, saying it was just part of what you do as a team. Those players have been accused of “not getting it,” of not realizing what they did was wrong.

But if these players, after all that happened to them, can still “not get it,” then perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Do we get it?” And instead of further admonishing the players, we have to ask, “Why don’t they get it?”

That is the question that should be at hand, not simply whether they were punished enough.

In wake of Vermont’s decision to cancel the season, the ECAC had to react quickly to decide the best course of action. Ultimately, it decided to include in the standings all games played by Vermont to that point, and ignore unplayed games. This would create a situation where teams finish with unequal numbers of league games played, so the decision was made to use percentage-based standings.

I know I’m being Contrary Mary today, but once again, I have to go against some of my colleagues on this site, who didn’t like the system. For as critical as I’ve been against the ECAC, they didn’t have a good option, no matter how you slice it.

Critics have said that basing the standings on percentage and have an unbalanced amount of games, gives different teams an unequal amount of weight to each game. If you played a full slate of 22 games and your opponent plays 21, each game will mean (very slightly) less to you.

Is that good? It is if you lose.

So really, it doesn’t matter. The way it’s being done will work out positively or negatively for you. If previously played games against Vermont were wiped out, it hurts the teams that beat them, and helps the teams that lost to them. If you give everyone two points for the remaining unplayed Vermont games, it hurts the teams that already lost to them.

Personally, if you look at it from a logical standpoint, the winning percentage method is the only one that has fair balance. If you win, it’s good, but your win doesn’t mean as much. If you lose, it’s bad, but your loss doesn’t mean as much. Any other way — even though each individual game would mean the same — would unfairly tip the balance for or against teams that already played Vermont. Which is worse?

I recently read a message from college hockey devotee Greg Berge. He says:

“[T]he main problem people had with [using] the winning percentage was the apparent radical rearrangement of the the standings. For example, I heard broadcasters from three different ECAC hockey programs make a big deal about Harvard ‘suddenly dropping from second the seventh.’ Now, as we all know, this was a completely silly way to look at it. Harvard had been tied for seventh (actually, eighth, since UVM was included in the standings) before the decision was handed down [in terms of winning percentage] — it changed nothing. It put into place only a different (and almost certainly more useful) way of looking at the standings.

“The technical psychological principle behind the dramatic reaction against the decision was: a lot of people are bad at math.”

As a faithful member of the Math Police, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There is no great solution here. The whole thing stinks (see above section). But, you take the hand that’s dealt and do the best you can.

If things continue to go well, men’s ice hockey will finally get a 16-team tournament. It’s something a lot of people have wanted for years. It wasn’t feasible until Division I started growing its ranks, especially with the formation of the MAAC last season.

The proposal from the men’s ice hockey committee was shot down last year. This year, the Championship Cabinet, made up of approximately 40 athletic directors, has, according to sources, given overwhelming approval to the idea.

The plan now heads to the Management Council, made up of school presidents, athletic directors and faculty representatives.

There are ratios on the books for how many teams can be in the NCAA tournament for each sport based on the number of schools that participate as a whole. For hockey, it would need over 100 teams to reach the ratio to allow a 16-team tournament.

But exceptions are made for reasons mostly having to do with money. For example, hockey’s postseason tournament makes a lot of it. Therefore, it can justify the expansion by saying they’ll make even more of it. Money talks to the NCAA.

There are still the particulars to work out. How many automatic bids will each conference now get? Will they split into four regional sites? Will it be on-campus or continue to be neutral sites? But it will happen.

Follow the money.

Speaking of increasing the ranks of college hockey, North Dakota State is ready to make the plunge. Currently, there is no hockey program at the Fargo school, but NDSU has been a power in other sports at the D-II level.

NDSU is looking to begin a men’s and women’s program by 2001-02, and is on a season-ticket drive, hoping to reach 6,000. But the whole thing is apparently contingent on the locals extending the 0.5% sales tax that was used to fund the 19,000-seat Fargodome. The new funds would go towards another 8,000-seat arena for Fargo (still no confirmation that the Coen Brothers will drop the first puck, and that the mascot will be a woodchipper) that would house the men’s team, with an auxiliary 2,500-seat arena to house the women’s team.

No one is sure what will happen if they sell the 6,000 season tickets but voters don’t approve the facility. I’m not sure why the voters would approve another facility. I mean, I hope they do, but they already built a huge arena in an area with a population of 80,000.

Assuming things do work out, NDSU will be yet another non-D-I school that will play up to D-I hockey. Hockey is filled with such schools, including North Dakota, St. Cloud, Minnesota State and Nebraska-Omaha. In most other sports, all of those schools are members of the D-II North Central Conference.

Which leads to the larger issue.

There has been a raging argument for years over whether it’s worth sacrificing these non D-I schools for the sake of growing the sport. Like it or not, there’s a perception among the larger NCAA populace that looks at hockey as a black sheep for having all of these hockey-only conferences. It’s similar with the amateurism issue. Under new proposals, the clock will start ticking against any student-athlete over the age of 18, but hockey wants to protect the juniors and prep schools and push the age back to 20.

Rightly or wrongly, this creates a perception that the hockey community plays outside the lines. Fact is, there are those in the NCAA that see the hockey-only conferences, the 20-year old freshmen, and the two automatic bids per conference and get confused at such radical behavior.

I think the perception is a rather pompous one — hockey has a lot of tradition to adhere to, and when it comes to recognizing 20-year olds as freshmen, it has to play along with the rest of the hockey world. As much as any other sport, hockey is tied into its international brethren. By trying to keep up with Canada and Europe, it has to go against the normal flow of the NCAA.

But I digress.

Certainly no one wants to see longtime powers like Clarkson and North Dakota, or even smaller traditional schools like Merrimack and Ferris State, drop off the hockey radar. But there is a large desire by many to see the sport grow from its quaint roots into a more national phenomenon, like those people feel it deserves to be.

On the other hand, if it does grow, not only might it push out the little guy, but it may also put out the little fan, who loves being able to attend the Frozen Four without having to take out a second mortgage.

The experts say ESPN will never pick up a college hockey contract so long as Clarkson-North Dakota is that night’s premiere game. They want a steady diet of BC-Notre Dame, Ohio State-Michigan, Minnesota-Wisconsin … or, heaven help us, Syracuse-Penn State.

I too have been conflicted. I love the tradition of Clarkson and St. Lawrence, and BU and Maine. When Hockey East becomes a part of the Big East, or when the CCHA and WCHA merge to form the Hockey Big 10, who wants to see the little guys be the sacrificial lamb for such an arrangement?

This is a huge debate, and it goes in constant circles, and all the analysis would take up too much time for this article.

But there are people who think college hockey can grow, and needs to grow, without necessarily sacrificing anyone. Jack McDonald, athletic director at Quinnipiac, is one who feels strongly that bringing bigger schools and bigger multi-sport conferences into hockey doesn’t have to be bad for the smaller schools.

Of course, his MAAC hockey league has led the way. Despite being a weak sister among the Division I conferences, the MAAC is the only one of them with ties to a major Division I conference with political clout on the national level.

Don’t think MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor hasn’t been instrumental in opening the eyes of the NCAA to what hockey can be, and already is.

McDonald says smaller schools like Merrimack, Union and Ferris State will benefit more from the possibility of getting automatic bids from smaller conferences, than just simply competing in bigger conferences.

“If Ferris gets squeezed, that doesn’t have to be bad,” he said. “They get a chance at an automatic bid. Look at us. Quinnipiac could make the NCAA Tournament because of an automatic bid.

“And look at the MAAC TV package. We’re in more homes than any other conference. Our tournament will be on MSG, NESN and Empire. Being in a multi-sport conference, we’ve got leveraging power to make television deals to include all of our sports. Once we break away from one-sport conferences, that’s good for hockey.”

To be honest, it makes a lot of sense. And, actually, I breathed a sigh of relief as McDonald made his points. This means I can rest assured that, even if college hockey’s popularity explodes, there will still be ample opportunity for the Merrimacks of the world to grab a national spotlight.

The schools it doesn’t help, however, will be traditional hockey powers that are non-D-I programs — like North Dakota, Clarkson and Lake Superior — as well as the Ivies. These are the programs set up to be hurt by such a scenario.

For college hockey traditionalists, it’s not easy. But ultimately, it will probably come down to … Right, money. As in, TV contracts = money. And it might not be so bad.

News Item:

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) — Shares of Internet security companies leaped Wednesday as the cyber attacks on popular Web sites extended to a third day.

Shares of Internet Security Systems, Check Point Software, SonicWall, WatchGuard, and Axent all ran up in early trading.

Hasn’t anyone seen The Net!?!? C’mon, Sandra Bullock? Of course you have.

Unscrupulous security company hacks into big government agencies to scare them into buying their system. Then the security company uses a backdoor in the system to gain access to all sorts of government information.

I smell a rat.

Follow the money.


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