The Parker Brouhaha

It all started last Friday night and it may not yet be over.

It began with a disallowed goal in the Boston University – Providence game that escalated into a major controversy when BU coach Jack Parker sent his team to the dressing room in protest. As a result, Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna issued Parker a one-game suspension to be served the following night.

That evening, the issue exploded when TV cameras focused on the BU coach in the press box and appeared to show him indirectly giving instructions to the Terrier bench.

The resulting firestorm of controversy has since led Hockey East athletic directors to take over responsibility for the matter. They are evaluating the situation and, depending on the conclusions they reach, could decide on further action.

“The athletic directors are getting involved, looking into wrapping the thing up if there’s any need for any further activity,” said Bertagna on Tuesday. “I think there was a feeling to get me out of the middle of it so it didn’t become a personality clash. I’m, like everyone else, waiting to see what they’re going to do. It’s in their hands.”

In the meantime, here is a more detailed look at the events.

[Parker could not comment.]

Friday night

By the time of the disallowed goal at 10:25, BU was already trailing, 2-0, on the scoreboard. The coaching staff and Terriers may have also felt that they were down, 1-0, in terms of the officiating. More than one observer at Schneider Arena felt at the time that the three-on-one that had led to the first Providence goal had been offside. However, one of those same doubters came away from watching the game tape afterward with a different outlook: the play had either been onside or, at worst, too close to call.

That said, doubts about the first PC score may have been fresh on Parker’s mind when referee Scott Hansen then waved off an apparent big BU comeback goal. Confusion reigns on this point, but the officially announced reason was that Hansen had already blown his whistle.

Parker argued the call vehemently and was eventually assessed a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game. At that point, he sent his team to the dressing room. (At Schneider Arena, that does not involve crossing the ice. The back of the bench exits directly to a hallway leading to the dressing rooms.)

As a result of this, Hansen put three minutes on the clock, which began counting down to zero. The Terriers returned with 15 seconds remaining. Had they not, the game would have been counted as a forfeit.

Whether Hansen had erred in previous calls is subject to debate, but at this point he made a clear-cut mistake which helped BU. Instead of tacking on a five-minute major to the already-assessed minor penalty for delay of game, he only added a second minor penalty.

Chapter 6, section 40 of the NCAA rulebook states:

Refusing to Start Play
Refusal to obey the decision of the referee shall not be permitted. For violation of this rule, the penalty shall be a forfeiture and the score shall be 1-0, unless the decision of referee is accepted within three minutes. In this case, a major penalty shall be assessed.

The Terriers still were down five-on-three for two minutes, however, and surrendered a power-play goal to fall behind, 3-0. They killed the rest of that penalty, but gave up another on a Friar man advantage before the first period was over and, for all practical purposes, the game was over.

The same could not be said for the aftermath of Parker’s decision to send his team to the dressing room. Not only had it hurt BU’s comeback chances, it also resulted in Bertagna handing down a one-game suspension.

“This was not based solely on Friday night,” said Bertagna. “In my mind, there were a number of situations going back two years that I’ve spoken to Jack about.

“He put his hand on the official [at UNH earlier this season]. He thought that was a minor thing, that he didn’t really grab, he just touched him. To me, that’s splitting hairs. There was a game out at Duluth at Christmas that got a lot of attention because they used a Duluth alum, but I saw the referee’s report filed on the game on his [Parker’s] behavior, holding his nose as if to say, ‘You stink!’

“He did [the same thing] last year to Jeff Bunyon in the Beanpot, which I spoke to him about then. There are any number of other shouting matches that he’s been spoken to [regarding].

“I just think the coaches have to show more respect and be less confrontational to officials. He disagrees, but I feel comfortable in doing that and I think that I have the backing of most of the athletic directors.

“So this wasn’t something that was a snap judgment. It’s not a matter of me out to get Jack Parker or to make an example of Jack Parker. I’m responding to things; I’m not initiating things.

“I would treat any coach that had that same track record the same way. There’s just nobody else who has built up that body of situations that has put me into a situation where I think I have to respond. I think if I didn’t respond, then my credibility is subject to question.”

Including his years in the ECAC, it’s the first time Bertagna has taken the action.

“Every league is set up pretty much the same way,” he said. “If you think ‘supplemental discipline’ — that means anything that isn’t covered by the book — is necessary, then it’s at your discretion.

“I’ve had a lot of coaches written up and put on notice. Basically what you have to do is build a case so when you do pull the trigger and they ask why, you can clearly show a pattern and you’re not guilty of one quick judgment and being unfair to an individual.

“This is the first time where I felt not only comfortable doing it, but felt that it had reached the point where I had an obligation to do it. That’s how I look at my job. If I had not done it, I would have felt negligent in doing my job.

“I imagine that most of us [commissioners] don’t do [something like a suspension] lightly, or do so A: when they think it’s appropriate and B: when they’re pretty comfortable that they’ll be backed up by their athletic directors. In the case of an appeal, it would go to the executive committee, which is three athletic directors [UNH’s Dr. Judith Ray, Merrimack’s Bob DeGregorio, Jr. and Providence’s John Marinatto]. I feel relatively comfortable that had he appealed, I would have been backed up.”

Saturday night

Parker’s “suspension game” included an ironic twist: Bertagna was already scheduled to provide color commentary that night for the PAX 68 broadcast of the BU-PC rematch.

“I was prepared for them [BU] to appeal, but when I showed up at the game, I learned that they had decided not to,” said Bertagna. “I think Jack didn’t want it to go any further than me. I think in his mind, he was kind of appealing it to me to reconsider. That type of thing.

“I got there late to do the broadcast, so I never had a chance to talk to him a third time. I talked to him late Friday night and I talked to him on Saturday morning. We had two very civil conversations, but we just disagreed on things.”

Parker, no doubt mindful of the harassment he received from fans a few years ago when sitting in the stands at one opponent’s arena, chose to observe the game from the press box, seated next to video coordinator Rob Davies. Although the suspension would almost certainly have otherwise receded into the background after the game, the TV cameras showed Parker talking to Davies, who was wearing a headset and could communicate with the BU bench. In the one particular sequence that doused gasoline on the fire, Parker appeared to be diagramming a play at the end of the game, at which point the cameras then showed Davies conversing with assistant coach Mike Bavis on the bench.

Almost certainly, Parker’s potential impact on the BU bench’s decisions in that game has been grossly overstated in the resulting controversy. Bavis, the only one on the bench who could communicate with the press box, was not in charge. Assistant coaches Brian Durocher and Mike Geragosian both have two decades of experience to Bavis’ year and a half. Durocher, not Bavis, was calling the shots.

Nonetheless, the images shown on the TV screen could not have looked much worse. The reality may have been considerably more benign, albeit still over the line of acceptable actions during a suspension, but the perception was that Parker was orchestrating events from the press box and the assistants on the bench were little more than marionettes.

Is that perception not only incorrect, but an insult to Durocher, who has spent time as a head coach elsewhere? Yes. But the TV cameras lingered over Parker and Davies and the apparent communication with Bavis, rather than on Durocher, the top assistant, giving instructions to the Terriers.

That said, can any communication with the bench be excused?

“I was disappointed,” said Bertagna on Sunday. “Somebody asked me, since this was the first time that we’ve done this, ‘How do you police it?’

“I said, ‘You have to trust that people will be mature enough that you don’t need to send people snooping around and looking.’ Being in the press box by itself is no problem; maybe even saying something if the guy goes down [to the dressing rooms] between periods.

“But to actually have a setup where he’s talking to the person next to him, who is relaying information down… if nothing else, it will force us to put in writing exactly what the understanding is because there is nothing in writing.

“I’m sure that Coach Parker is probably going to point out, ‘Show me where it says you can’t do it.’ This is how rules get written. Where you don’t think they’re necessary, someone will make them necessary.”

The Fallout

On Sunday afternoon, Bertagna’s first stated intention was to call BU Athletic Director Gary Strickler and say “that I think that [Parker] made a mockery of [the suspension].” Beyond that, the next step was unclear.

By Tuesday, however, the Hockey East athletic directors had assumed the burden of the case from Bertagna.

“People [are] looking at the tapes of the game and [asking,] was there actual communication with the team,” he said. “In the absence of any information, I might have not been inclined to do anything [in terms of further action], but if anything surfaces that shows actual communication with the team, then certainly I’d be inclined and I would hope that they would be, too.”

The questions of how much of an impact any communication might have had, or whether it was indirect, is considered irrelevant.

“The point is, was there any communication from Jack to the team,” said Bertagna. “And the team means a player and/or coach. If that’s direct, or through a third party, then that would certainly be in violation of the spirit of things.

“We don’t have this written down because it’s such a rare occurrence. More to the point, things haven’t been written down because I think there was an understanding that, hey, if you’re suspended that means you can’t have any participation in any way.

“Depending on how this plays out, it’s probably going to lead us to have to write things down. That if you’re suspended, you can’t be in the building or you can be in the building, but you have to be in the seats. You’d hope that you wouldn’t have to get to that level because some things should be self-evident.

“Depending on what we learn as the ADs look into it, if there was communication then [first,] there’s probably going to be a follow-up action. It could be a reprimand. It could be a further suspension. I don’t know what it could be. And then second, we would probably move as a league and put it down in writing.”

One might wonder why written guidelines aren’t already in place.

“This is not unusual,” said Bertagna. “In the ECAC, since I would always anticipate that I was going to be the one that would have to do these things, I was constantly asking the athletic directors, ‘What if? What if? What if?’ and usually [the response] was, ‘We’ll worry about that when it happens.’

“That’s not good because now it’s happened and maybe things would have worked smoother if there had been a piece of paper we could have referred to.”

Even if no further action is taken by the athletic directors, Parker may well find himself on a shorter leash in the future.

“Just because this weekend happened, doesn’t mean that he starts from scratch,” said Bertagna. “To me, these are cumulative things. He’s got a record that I think is inappropriate…. It doesn’t go away.”

Without a doubt, everyone directly concerned is hoping to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

“This is part of the job that I don’t like,” said Bertagna. “Everybody wants to get this over with. This has taken a lot of people’s time and, in my case, a lot of emotional energy because of banging heads with people at a time when we’ve got a lot of other things I’d rather be talking about.

“If somebody wants to do an interview, I’d rather talk about having four teams in the top eight or that tickets are selling like crazy, things that we think are really good things. Like, hey, how about Brian Gionta’s hat trick [on Sunday].

“But instead, a series of phone messages [that I have] are for going on the air to talk about something that isn’t particularly attractive.”

A potentially overlooked concern is the need for fairness in a highly polarized controversy.

“The other thing that hasn’t been lost on me is that Jack is such a lightning rod,” said Bertagna. “People either love him or hate him. You’ve got to make sure that people don’t overreact and do things for the wrong reasons in something like this.

“This shouldn’t be an opportunity to get back at years of jealousy: Good, now somebody can nail Jack Parker. That’s not what this should be about. You take the facts of what’s going on and you make an appropriate decision based on the facts.

“You can tell that there’s some glee in the voices of some people that you talk to. The it’s about time type of thing. I certainly can’t get caught up in what fans’ or competitors’ feelings might be. I’ve got to be down the middle in something like this.”