Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/15/2009

NCAA: Failing At Sports, Academics, and Life

Filed under: Air Force Academy,Kevin Wright,NCAA,NCAA Rules — Joe Yerdon @ 6:48 PM

I try not to assume too much about the readers here but I’m going to go out on a limb that you’re all more knowledgeable about sports than you let on. I’m assuming that you’re all more than just hockey-centric sports fans and that you’re familiar with the NCAA.

I’m also guessing that you’ll be aware of how they’ve “handled” themselves and member schools over certain academic faux pas in the past, especially those having to do with the eligibility of athletes that play football and basketball.

All of those assumptions and suppositions aside, it’s time I introduce you to Air Force Academy defenseman Kevin Wright.


One is a well-respected American institution, the other just hates student athletes trying to learn.

Kevin Wright just completed his sophomore year at Air Force, a United States Academy and one of the most esteemed academic institutions in the nation. The Air Force Academy mission statement reads as such:


…To educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character, motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.

Serious business and the kind of place that instantly gets respect from anyone that comes into contact with them, much like how the United States Military Academy and United States Naval Academy does. These guys are the best and the brightest and choose to give part of, if not all of, their lives to their country.

For Kevin Wright, however, the NCAA thinks differently of him. They think that he’s the kind of guy who would backdoor his own academics to get into the Air Force by taking too many classes before enrolling at Air Force.

Get ready to be disgusted:


He wanted to play Division I college hockey but had no offers from D-I programs or from junior hockey clubs – from which collegiate programs recruit players. Because he was 17, however, he had a year of midget hockey eligibility. He decided to play that final year to attract junior teams.

His parents were OK with the decision but wanted him to take classes, so he enrolled at West Valley Community College in Saratoga, Calif.

This is not uncommon. According to Air Force coach Frank Serratore, virtually all of Wright’s teammates took some classes at community colleges while playing junior hockey. It shows a commitment to academics.

Wright’s error was taking too many classes.

Unbelievable.

So, the NCAA who often enjoys shrugging off coaches wantonly breaking rules by supplying prized recruits with gifts, money, what-have-you now has a problem with a kid who busted his ass to keep up academically so he could even qualify to enroll at the Air Force Academy.

What the hell is wrong with this picture? You would think that the NCAA would go nuts over having a kid who wanted the opportunity to play and compete so badly that he made sure he took classes to ensure his application to the Academy would go through.

Then again, perhaps the NCAA just doesn’t give a damn about hockey players since that’s not a sport that helps make them a lot of money. After all, when Myron Rolle was going for a Rhodes Scholarship while playing football for Florida State (one of those sneaky, shady institutions that likes to run afoul of the rules) they couldn’t do anything but gush and praise the man.

But what about Kevin Wright?

Nope, screw him because he took a few too many classes before entering the Air Force Academy. At least that’s what the NCAA tells him:


According to NCAA bylaw 14.2.1 – the five-year rule – once someone takes enough classes to be considered a “full-time” student, he has five calendar years in which to complete his four seasons of participation. By taking enough classes to be considered full time at West Valley, Wright started his NCAA eligibility clock.

That means, according to the NCAA, time’s up. Year one was spent playing midget hockey for the San Jose Jr. Sharks (2004-05), two and three were spent playing junior hockey for the Southern Minnesota Express of the North American Hockey League (2005-07) and his fourth and fifth years were his freshman and sophomore years at the academy (2007-09).

“He could have sloughed off and not gone to school at all and not had any of this happen,” Serratore said. “But he and his parents wanted to do the right thing. He’s punished for being academically motivated.”

Academically motivated student-athlete. Isn’t that what the NCAA is ideally all about?

Oh right, it is:


Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.

Quite the conundrum we’ve got here, isn’t it?

What makes this entire thing all the more painful is that Wright received bad advice about what to do about his academics if he wanted to retain his full eligibility. Kevin and his family of course wanted to do right by the rules and the NCAA has enough loopholes around their rules that they could look the other way and allow him to go through.

As is obvious by his story as told by Jake Schaller of the Colorado Springs Gazette, he’s not trying to fool anyone and he’s trying to do right by the rules and regulations, something the folks running the Air Force Academy would be proud of.

Instead, the NCAA feels the need to flex their muscles and show how much of a stickler they can be for their own rules:


But the NCAA turned down Wright’s waiver, and the committee on student-athlete reinstatement denied Wright’s appeal because it “was unable to identify compelling extenuating circumstances to meet the requirements for extending the five-year period of eligibility or for waiving the start of the student-athlete’s five-year clock.”

In such cases, according to Stacey Osburn, the NCAA’s associate director for public and media relations, the committee and staff also weigh that a student-athlete like Wright made the decision to delay enrollment at an NCAA school for athletic reasons (not for personal or academic motives).

The five-year rule attempts “to ensure a fair and level playing field for all student-athletes, including those that compete against the student-athletes applying for waivers,” Osburn said.

“I thought that once they saw that I wasn’t trying to cheat the system and that I was just trying to take care of my education that there was no harm or any negative side effects from my actions as far as athletics go,” Wright said.

But in the letter confirming the denial of Wright’s appeal, Jennifer Henderson, the NCAA’s director of membership services/student-athlete reinstatement, wrote that “no additional appeal opportunity” exists.

But he hasn’t given up. His family has begun a campaign to draw attention to the matter in the hopes that someone, anyone will intervene.

Ahh yes, the campaign to draw attention to the NCAA ruling like a pack of iron-fisted dictators and having no idea on when to use common sense when judging the case of some kid who, by all understanding is just a regular guy looking to play hockey and keep throwing up a 3.4 GPA.

Count me in on this battle because the NCAA seems to want to play like they’re standing hard by their rules, and that’s a good example to set for other sports that are continually finding ways to get around or outright break the NCAAs rules. Hockey, generally, isn’t one of those sports that looks to flout their ability to stick it to the NCAA and playing hard-ass with a hockey player, and one at a United States Academy at that, seems shortsighted and foolish on their part.

This opinion seems to be shared amongst other members in the NCAA Hockey community as is shown in this special correspondence sent to Jack Schaller courtesy of Air Force coach Frank Serratore:


Frank: Very, very sorry to hear about the Kevin Wright/NCAA issue. I am of the opinion that Kevin has a legitimate case and it should be pursued. The NCAA objective regarding eligibility, should be a fair and honest effort to insure that every athlete has an opportunity to compete. Opportunity, opportunity it should always be about opportunity for young adults to participate. Seems to be very clear that Kevin was given incorrect advice by an academic counselor in whom Kevin trusted. For this reason alone he should have his eligibility restored. There was no attempt on Kevin’s part to circumvent the NCAA rules. The key words are TRUST and INTENT. Kevin delayed his entry into DI athletics in order to better prepare himself to compete. At least 95% of all hockey players contemplating D-I hockey competition, play junior or some other level of hockey in order match the experience level of their contemporaries. Football and basketball players don’t have to go the same route as hockey players in order to be on the same competitive level as their contemporaries. Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background. The end result is that Kevin becomes an innocent victim.

That was sent to Coach Serratore from former Bemidji State Athletic Director and newly retired commissioner of College Hockey America, Bob Peters. One of the last lines from Peters really sticks out to me: “Unfortunately, most of the NCAA staff members that deal with eligibility have no hockey background.”

Why doesn’t the NCAA have some folks on their staff that know more about hockey? How is it possible that this organization that governs most of the collegiate sports in America doesn’t have someone with a lick of common sense or detailed hockey knowledge? And if there aren’t any folks at the NCAA that know better about these things, why are they even making a ruling on this situation without understanding it?

I know why. They’re the NCAA that’s why. They’re like Alec Baldwin’s character Blake in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and if you ask them what their name is you get, “Fuck YOU, that’s my name!”

No one around to check them, no one there to balance them and certainly no one there to listen to the story of Kevin Wright and put things into the proper perspective for them.

But that’s why we’re here on the Internet, to bring stories like this into the light.

We’re here to help a kid who’s getting the short end of the stick courtesy of an organization that would rather play hard with the rules than gain any insight or understanding into someone’s situation.

Spread the word.

03/01/2009

Back To School: SLU 2 – RPI 0

Filed under: Back To School,ECAC,NCAA Rules,refs,RPI,St. Lawrence University — Joe Yerdon @ 8:38 PM

Second verse, same as the first for RPI this weekend in dealing with St. Lawrence. With RPI playing mostly 50 minutes of lifeless hockey and coming alive for the final ten against Clarkson, it was a bit surprising to see a similar situation crop up the next night.

It’s also surprising given that this was senior night for RPI. On this night, Arnold Schwarzenegger shed a tear because somewhere else in America, the Austrian national anthem was played, this time in honor the evening’s senior starting goaltender, Mathias Lange.


It’s like hockey gone emo but the sweaters aren’t ugly.

RPI started off well for the first few minutes but after a St. Lawrence power play goal in the first period from Shawn Fensel, the Engineers were frozen in time for the better part of the game through the rest of the first, all of the second and the first half of the third period.

In that time, TSN Hockey God Bob McKenzie‘s son Mike scored another power play goal for the Saints in the second period to put the lead out of reach for the night. Oddly enough, this was one of those games where there wasn’t a lack of shots, there were plenty of those (SLU 31, RPI 29) and St. Lawrence certainly had more than a few great opportunities to score. For the home-standing Engineers, however, it wasn’t quite the same until late into the third period.


This ice carving of RPI mascot Puckman sums up their offense this year.

Right about at the ten minute mark of the third, RPI managed to swing momentum on their side simply by having their top line with senior captain Matt Angers-Goulet and sophomores Chase Polacek and Tyler Helfrich cycling well, doing dirty work and getting a few shots on goal. I mention this line by name because it was this same group the night before that woke them up and it carried through to the other lines from that point on.

The issue for RPI on this night would be that they both seemingly waited too late into the game to get it going and allowed some truly crummy officiating get in their way. During a shift featuring the Joel Malchuk line, Malchuk was mixed up with a SLU defender trying to free the puck up on the end boards. Another SLU defenseman skated in planting a check into the back of Malchuk putting him down on the ice leading to an eventual stop in play and players mixing it up a bit.

Malchuk was slow to get up but eventually did and headed to the bench. The problem here is that no call was made on the play. Checking from behind has been a pet issue of the NCAA and all of its conferences for a couple seasons now, allowing officials the discretion to hand out a five-minute major and a game misconduct to players found guilty of this.

Folks at the NCAA go as far as to chart the progress of these calls and revisit the issue to see if anything needs to be altered. At least they’re trying to make sure they’re doing some things correctly.

The NCAA has adopted some of their rulings from the NHL (for example: no line changes for teams offending on icing, face offs after penalties go to the offending team’s defensive end of the ice) however the NCAA’s stand on dangerous hits from behind is something they should be commended for. The NHL has been gutless when it comes to protecting their players and only this week started dealing out actual punishment for players delivering dirty hits (See: Brendan Witt and Derek Boogaard).

As for Joel Malchuk, while folks can argue one way or the other whether or not the hit was a minor or major infraction (hits like that have been called either way in games I’ve watched) the fact that officials Mike Baker and Joe Carusone called nothing on the play is embarrassing.

RPI head coach Seth Appert made sure to voice his displeasure with the officials about this (as well as a potential tripping call on the following shift). Appert was given a bench minor for his efforts.

At least they made one call in the final few minutes. I guess.

Malchuk may feel like the most snakebitten guy in the league given this no-call against St. Lawrence and the embellishment penalty he received in a road game against Union College this year where he was tripped and tossed to the ice by a Union defenseman on a short-handed break.

Black clouds find a way to follow some people around. Malchuk has also missed parts of this season and most of last season due to a myriad of injuries.

As for referee Mike Baker, he heard it loudly and by name from the RPI students. I can’t say I recall a game where the referee has been chanted at by name and told how poorly he’s doing his job, but this is what makes the RPI fans a fascinating set of creatures with memories as sharp as an elephant.

Flashing back to last season, Mike Baker was one of the two referees on the ice for a home game against, oddly enough, Union College. The NCAA didn’t go full-on with the two referee system until this season, but this tilt between travel partners was chosen to be a test run to see how well it would work. If you ask Union fans, it worked out great as the Dutchmen pounded RPI. If you ask RPI fans, they’ll start muttering about Mike Baker’s work in that game, one part in particular from the first period:

REN-5 Dan Peace (5-Fighting) UNI 1×5 17:56

REN-6 Dan Peace (10-Game Disqualification) (Served by Scott Halpern) 17:56

The problem they have with these penalties is that no Union player was also tagged for fighting, no one dropped their gloves, and it occurred in a harmless post-whistle scrum near the goal.

Could Mike Baker just been interpreting the NCAA Rule Book literally? Sure, absolutely he could have – to quote Section 17a.:

A player shall not fight an opponent or participate in a fight, on or off the playing surface. A punch thrown may be considered fighting.

OK, I can see how a post-whistle scrum could be interpreted that way and be taken very literal by someone hellbent on impressing the boss. Oh, by the way, the boss of officials in the ECAC is former NHL referee Paul Stewart. Stewart knows how things go so cross that one off the list.

That said, if you’re going to be a stickler for that rule… why not be a stickler for all of them? I digress. Officiating isn’t the reason RPI lost the game, St. Lawrence is playing very good hockey right now and it may have been RPI that woke them up by beating them 7-6 in overtime in January.

St. Lawrence has been on fire since that game, only dropping one contest to travel partner Clarkson since that game with RPI on January 23rd. Come March 20-21st when we’ll be visiting the Times Union Center in Albany for the ECAC Semis and Finals I would be surprised if St. Lawrence was not there competing for the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

The post game brought about one of my favorite things: The ceremony to thank the seniors and pay homage to them for their hard work and dedication to the program. For RPI, this meant a parting farewell for Mathias Lange, Kurt Colling, Seth Klerer, Andrei Uryadov and captain Matt Angers-Goulet.


Losing on Senior Night is a huge bummer.

It also doubles as a function as a reminder to those who are moving up a class next season that their roles are more important and that their leadership will be demanded of them and for a few players, a big step up in their game and a whole boatload of new responsibilities.


Part of the future of RPI Engineers hockey.

RPI and St. Lawrence now move on to the Conference Playoffs. RPI finished the season with the #11 spot in the ECAC and will visit Dartmouth College in their playoff series next weekend while St. Lawrence’s win over RPI gives them a first round bye and the #4 seed in the ECAC.

The other first round pairings are:

Clarkson @ Union
Brown @ Harvard
Colgate @ Quinnipiac

Yale, Cornell and Princeton also have first round byes with St. Lawrence and those four will wait to see who is left standing after this weekend.

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