The ostensible benefits of big-time college sports make it all too easy for university administrators to look the other way when jock culture gets out of control. Boston University officials did just that with the school’s hockey team for years, and are now starting to come to grips with the consequences. But unless longtime coach Jack Parker suddenly accepts the need for change — drastic change — the only way to fully cleanse the program would be for him to resign or be fired.
Six months ago, President Robert Brown convened a task force to assess the program in the wake of sexual violence charges against two players. The panel’s report this week portrays a campus where hockey players acted with impunity, and coaches and administrators failed to rein them in.
The report declared that the team’s “elevated social status” fostered a “culture of sexual entitlement” among some players. Internal documents included accounts of kegs in the locker room showers, sex in the penalty box, and naked players going onto the ice to shoot goals. It’s hard to assess such anecdotes, but, more troublingly, the internal documents conclude that at least some players had “the perception that they need not seek consent for sexual contact.” The report also found that hockey players generally underachieved academically and lived apart from regular students and normal discipline procedures.
The task force stopped far too short. On admission standards, the report called only for further review. But admitting students with lesser academic qualifications — and subjecting them to lesser discipline procedures when they break rules — contributes to the sense of double standards on campus, and should be stopped.
The school must also go beyond the report by committing to take itself off the National Hockey League conveyor belt. The task force said that on average, a third of incoming BU hockey players have already been drafted by an NHL team. Many of them spend several years in junior leagues after high school, resulting in older freshmen and upperclassmen up to 25 years old. If BU cannot integrate them into the rest of the student body, it should not have them on campus.
The biggest issue, though, is Parker, who has presided over this program for decades. In February, he told the Globe, “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.’’ He has offered shifting responses to task force questions about a rowdy 2009 party. While he has been a fine on-ice coach, his boys-will-be-boys attitude is no longer appropriate — especially in light of the strides the university has made to upgrade its academics and its reputation over the years.
Bewilderingly, BU seems content to keep Parker on. He was stripped of his title as the university’s executive athletic director but kept the same salary and his role as hockey coach. This isn’t punishment; it’s a signal that Parker is untouchable. Unless Parker can show — quickly — that he can be a force for fixing a problem whose creation he oversaw, he needs to go.