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Christopher L. Gasper

Hockey-is-king culture was big problem at BU

The distance between Boston University’s Agganis Arena and Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is nearly 440 miles. The schools are closer in mind-set than they are mileage.

The details of alleged sexual misconduct and the existence of an entitlement culture in the Boston University men’s hockey program prove that kneeling at the altar of a college sports team and its iconic coach is not something that only happens in less metropolitan corners of the United States. It’s not reserved for State College, Pa., Columbus, Ohio, or Tuscaloosa, Ala.

It’s in our own backyard rink.

BU liked to think of itself as above the fray of collegiate athletics. Now, when BU stares at its reflection in the ice, what it sees staring back is a culture that is as insular as USC football or Indiana basketball. The school hasn’t had a football team since 1997 but it has a de facto Bowl Championship Series (BCS) one in the hockey team.

That’s the reality in the wake of a report issued by a task force commissioned to study the men’s hockey program after two players, Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro, were charged with sex-related crimes in a 10-week period between December and February.

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(The rape charges against Nicastro, stemming from a February incident, were dropped in June because of a lack of evidence. Trivino, charged with assault with intent to rape in December, received two years probation after pleading down to two counts of assault and battery and a single count of trespassing.)

The task force, commissioned in March by Boston University president Robert A. Brown, came to the conclusion that a “culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus.”

Any BU alumnus, such as myself, could have told you that BU hockey players are afforded Big Men on Campus status. Just like I can tell you I’ve met some really gracious, unassuming folks like Bobby Hanson and Carl Corazzini who skated in the scarlet and white.

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The much more damaging conclusion to be drawn from the report is that BU was guilty of fostering an all-to-familiar collegiate culture of athletic empowerment in which an idolized coach (Jack Parker) was permitted to behave as if the school worked for him and not the other way around.

Some schools have King Football, but at BU his highness goes by the name of hockey. The man sitting on that throne is Parker. Agganis is the House that Jack Built, and its rink bears his name.

The BU alum is as synonymous with the school as Warren Towers. Entering his 40th season as coach, Parker has brought the school three national titles, 876 wins, so many Beanpots (21) that the tournament has been referred to as the “BU Invitational,” and produced a steady stream of NHLers.

He is BU hockey, which is BU athletics.

That’s the problem.

Some of these players weren’t playing for Boston University. They were playing for Parker U. How can you expect the players to act as part of the university when the university acts like the coach is above it? You can’t.

That’s why it came as no surprise that the No. 1 recommendation of the task force was to strip Parker of his title as executive director of athletics and “normalize the reporting structure in the department of athletics so that all coaches, including the men’s ice hockey coach, report directly and exclusively to the athletic director.”

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“The absence of a few routine, transparent, and systematic processes that would establish clear expectations for players’ behavior has created a culture in which important aspects of oversight for our student-athletes’ behavior — beyond performance as a team member — has fallen inappropriately to the coaching staff,” said the task force report.

Changing that’s going to be easier said than done. The 67-year-old Parker has been doing his job and doing it well one way for 40 years. He is the third all-time winningest coach in college hockey.

He has been emperor of BU athletics. Now, he has to check in like a teenager with a curfew with administrators. Parker is likely to say, “Kiss my Ice” to that.

“The task force recommendations speak for themselves. Among the recommendations they seek to clarify any reporting relationships in the department of athletics with regard to administrative and athletics reporting relationships,” said BU spokesman Colin Riley.

Parker can’t be blamed for all the actions of his players. He’s not a baby-sitter. Still, it’s disappointing that by Parker’s own admission he knew Trivino had a drinking problem and tried to handle it internally, with his discipline, not the school’s.

It’s unclear what, if anything, Parker knew about the purported lewd and lecherous celebration his players had at Agganis Arena after winning the 2009 national championship, a party that included sex in the penalty box, according to confidential task force documents obtained by the Globe. He first claimed he knew nothing about a party to the task force and then admitted to knowing about drinking.

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Whether it was hockey hedonism or simply an impromptu kegger at the rink, the punishment for the party was determined by Parker and not the school, which paid handsomely to build the arena.

Sensing a theme here? Parker’s punishments are on a need-to-know basis. The problem is sometimes others at the university need to know before it becomes a bigger issue, like it did with Trivino.

Task force documents include player testimony that Parker’s grip on the team has loosened a bit. But he shouldn’t be the only one holding the reins.

The real entitlement issue at BU isn’t just about sex, it’s the belief that BU hockey players only had to answer to the hockey program and not the school.

Somehow BU let those become two different entities.

In the process, the school discovered that it’s not as far from Penn State as it thought.


Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.