BOSTON UNIVERSITY President Robert Brown has taken an important preliminary step in establishing a task force to examine the culture of BU’s hockey team. But it will take more than thoughtful conversation to repair the reputation of the team, of which two members have been accused of rape or sexual assault, amid numerous reports of boorish behavior and insensitivity to other students.
“To us, men’s hockey is like Duke basketball, Syracuse basketball, and USC and Texas football,’’ Brown said in an interview, indicating he knew precisely how much the alleged incidents could damage the reputation of a campus that has 33,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
While Brown is right to let the task force do its job before ordering any changes, one important addition might be designating a coach to monitor the behavior of athletes away from the rink. BU won the national hockey championship in 2009 and in the process became intertwined in a professionalized collegiate hockey culture that is arguably more complex than for football or basketball. College football and basketball players must stay utterly clear of the National Football League or National Basketball Association until they are drafted as seniors or leave college early.
Both alleged sexual assailants, Max Nicastro and Corey Trivino, were drafted by National Hockey League teams in 2008. Even with their dismissals, BU says nine of 24 current players have already been drafted by NHL teams. This means they train in professional camps and rub shoulders with the pros, then return to campus with an extra dose of testosterone-fueled entitlement. In addition, hockey players tend to be older than other students because many of them play in amateur development leagues between high school and college. Thus, even some sophomores are of drinking age. Several BU hockey players will turn 24 or 25 this year, while attending classes with 18- and 19-year-old undergrads.
All these factors make the hockey team a society unto itself. Policing this unit may be too overwhelming for the well-respected and three-time NCAA champion hockey coach Jack Parker. In a recent Globe interview, Parker sounded almost defeated, saying, “You can’t change the culture that’s evolved here; we’re not going to be able to step into people’s lives and change them drastically.’’
But BU hockey must change or give up the team. BU, which dropped its costly football program in the late 1990s, has built a deserved reputation as a major university with a proper balance of academics and sports. The graduation rates of nearly all its men’s and women’s teams are roughly the same as the student body at large - an unusual accomplishment. The task force gives BU a chance to preserve that balance, in the sport that most threatens to upset it.