Tuesday Morning Quarterback: West

Throughout the season, USCHO.com staffers Scott Brown and Jim Connelly will offer their views on the previous weeks’ action, alternating writing duties (and occasional potshots at each other) every Tuesday. Brown will focus on the West and Connelly on the East, in a regular column exclusive to USCHO Extra.

Uniform Application

When North Dakota had its appeal on the issue of its Native American nickname and imagery turned down by the NCAA on Sept. 28, the response was carefully structured to avoid denying the Sioux the right to host the NCAA West Regional next March. In particular, the Sioux Indian-head logos which dot Ralph Engelstad Arena were not required to be removed (likely impossible, logistically) or obscured.

That was probably a wise move by the NCAA, since an attempt to force North Dakota to alter the arena might have provided legal grounds for a breach-of-contract lawsuit. That would be because the NCAA’s policy on “hostile and abusive” Native American imagery was not in place at the time the university signed to host the regional.

Said NCAA Senior Vice-President for Governance and Membership Bernard Franklin, in part of the NCAA’s statement at the time:

However, the university will be allowed to host the Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Championship, West Regional, on March 24-25, 2006 at Ralph Engelstad Arena without altering its current contract. This decision was made because it is not reasonable to cover up or remove all of the Native American imagery in the arena, and the restriction was adopted by the Executive Committee after the contract was awarded to the university. The University of North Dakota will be restricted from hosting future championships in that arena.

But an issue that got lost in the hubbub was the fact that the Sioux could be required to remove their logos from team uniforms to participate in NCAA championship events. That issue has been rendered moot until Feb. 1, 2006, which is the date that the uniform policy will go into effect.

“The NCAA told us we didn’t have to stop,” Phil Harmeson, senior associate to UND president Charles Kupchella, told USCHO.com’s Patrick C. Miller. “We have a letter from the NCAA Championships Committee saying that we do not have to modify our uniforms.”

That freed up the Sioux to wear their uniforms for recent NCAA playoffs in football and women’s soccer.

But Feb. 1 is still before the West Regional takes place. For those not familiar with NCAA hockey rules on the subject, a school hosting a regional must play at that site if it makes the NCAA tournament, a likely outcome given UND’s performance so far this season.

And note that Franklin’s statement doesn’t say that the Sioux’s uniforms will be allowed to bear their Indian-head logos at the West Regional — only that it’s okay for the arena to do so.

Further action is in the offing. UND has already filed a second appeal with the NCAA.

A Night On The Town

In case you’ve been in Tibet, or in a cave, or in a cave in Tibet, for the past couple of weeks, several Gopher players under the legal drinking age were recently filmed by a local television station drinking at a Minneapolis bar.

I first heard the allegations, by Fox affiliate KMSP, during a Minnesota Vikings game on a Sunday afternoon, when Fox’s local commercial block aired its teaser for that night’s newscast. The tone and embellishment were the kind you’d expect to hear in an ad for a monster-truck rally at the Metrodome:

“Gopher hockey players … Violating team rules! … Breaking the lawwwwwww!” was the voiceover encouraging everyone to tune in that night at 9 p.m.

Now, I don’t want to make this seem like something it’s not — either more or less. College hockey, like other sports, has had its share of scandals, including those involving alcohol. This one hardly rates up there with Vermont’s “Elephant Walk” bombshell of a few years back, or other hazing-type violations. And no one is alleging that team or school officials were providing underage players with alcohol, which has happened at some places in the past.

No one is saying the players got out of hand, unlike the recent allegations against two Carolina Panthers cheerleaders, one of whom was underage and apparently in possession of a teammate’s ID. Since USCHO.com is known for its restraint and family-friendliness, I won’t repeat the salacious details involving those two — you can find them in about a million locations online or in print by now, if you’re so inclined and haven’t already.

Still, on first seeing the commercial, I had a pretty good guess — as most probably did — what the allegations were going to be.

I hardly think it’s news that college students drink. You can’t swing a cat these days without hitting a newspaper stand that has a story investigating the burgeoning booze business among underage students across the country. USA Today had one not long ago.

So these guys done wrong, and they got caught. I’ve covered Gopher hockey for USCHO.com for the entirety of head coach Don Lucia’s tenure, and I’m confident he’ll take the appropriate action. I’m sure the families aren’t exactly thrilled, either.

However, it’s the brazenness of this episode — or episodes, since KMSP filmed the Gophers on several occasions over a two-month period before broadcasting its allegations — that is a bit striking. And I don’t just mean the players.

The guys in question were apparently able to get into the bar with a handshake for the bouncers and no ID in sight, and to purchase alcohol with the same lack of verification.

Though I have lived in Minneapolis for 12 years, I’ve never been to Blarney Pub and Grill. That’s the Minneapolis bar a couple of blocks off-campus from which the KMSP report originated, and the place didn’t exist when I first got here.

But it took an organized failure on the part of the bar’s employees to let this happen. That’s one of the interesting things about it — maybe the most interesting thing.

When hockey players shake hands with bouncers and walk on by without showing ID, as KMSP reported, the security folks obviously know who they are. And just as obviously, the bouncers (and the bartenders who served the underage players) had to know those guys weren’t of the legal drinking age — particularly when some of the guys in question were high-profile freshmen.

So did management at Blarney purposely turn a blind eye to the legal ramifications in order to gain a reputation as a hangout for athletes? Or was this a matter of a few employees ignoring the rules, nothing more? Nobody knows quite yet.

Still, KMSP’s breathless, salivating style of “investigation” rubbed many the wrong way around the Twin Cities. Both the major local dailies, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, have expressed a reasonable level of concern about underage drinking while simultaneously rolling their eyes in disdain at the level to which the “scandal” was hyped by KMSP.

That’s not even to mention the entertainingly poorly-written and -edited article KMSP ran on its website. In terms of literary quality, it was the sort of thing you’d get if you asked a fourth-grader to write a one-page essay on the topic of “My Hidden-Camera Investigation.”

The contempt isn’t limited to the media, either. Backlash against the TV station is under way by Gophers fans: there’s even a t-shirt available with the inscription “I Hate Fox9 — The Snitch Station” emblazoned across the front.