Cracking down & westward bound

Two pressing questions facing Queen’s Athletics — and their implications for athletes and students alike

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Varsity athletes are on a very short leash.

Athletics Departments are using large-scale player suspensions to maintain order. When athletes are forced to miss games, it’s unclear whether the punishment fits the crime.

Queen’s baseball, field hockey and men’s lacrosse varsity club veteran players have all been suspended over the past three seasons for off-field incidents.

The “major infractions” policy was violated in two ways: teams committed actions which endangered the safety or undermined the dignity of individuals, which also affected or undermined the reputation of the University.

In 2010, the baseball team’s veterans were suspended two full seasons for alcohol-related infractions. Their dead-last finishes in 2010 and 2011 were due to the depletion of players.

This past fall, the men’s lacrosse team’s vets only suffered one game each for hosting a rookie party deemed unfit for Athletics standards. Ultimately the policy stands, but it’s too vague, and the standards athletes are being held to are unclear.

Worse, the field hockey team’s vets were handed two games. For the first time in four years, the field hockey team was in playoff contention, but the two subsequent losses put a damper on post-season hopes. Several graduating players are leaving without a taste of playoff action.

Are those fair prices to pay?

I don’t believe so. Still, a fair evaluation is blocked by details of the off-field commotions that remain off the record — for the sake of athletes’ privacy and the department.

From the athlete’s perspective, these kinds of sanctions are a worst-case scenario.

Just ask the Dalhousie women’s hockey team, who lost the remainder of their season after being caught throwing a rookie party this past December. They were up in arms over the sanction and weren’t shy about it.

In a revealing article by Globe & Mail writer Jane Taber, the players felt “completely bullied” by the athletic department. Details of the rookie party are on record and one of the team rookies stated she “honestly didn’t mind” what was asked of her at the party.

The Dal Tigers even reportedly suffered community backlash after a Halifax gossip magazine ran stories suggesting the team engaged in “lurid sexual activity” at the party.

Based on what the players said happened at that night, it’s easy to question the message being sent to varsity athletes through this hardline approach.

When varsity teams are violating Athletics policy, what are the other options?

For years, Queen’s attempted the “educational approach,” according to Manager of Interuniversity Sport Janean Sergeant. That must’ve been before the hammer came down on baseball in 2010.

The investigative process for sanctions, although thorough, is always internal and rarely transparent. The difference between a one-game, a two-game and a two-year suspension is still unknown.

This mission to keep athletes in line is misguided; and the message being transmitted has come at the expense of three varsity clubs.

In efforts to scare varsity athletes, they’re doing more damage than repair.

For varsity teams — and varsity clubs, in particular — the cost of their own actions lies in the hands of the department. The fairness of a decision is entirely out of the players’ hands.

— Peter Morrow

Facilities

West may not be the right direction for Queen’s Athletics.

Last September, Queen’s celebrated the completion of the redeveloped Nixon Field. The grand opening coincided nicely with the resurgence of Gaels rugby; the field hosted two gripping OUA championship games this season in front of raucous crowds.

The unveiling of Nixon was Athletics’ greatest feat of 2012-13 — but it doesn’t reflect the ambiguity surrounding Queen’s other home fields.

Athletics has verbally committed to building several new facilities in the coming years, including an all-purpose field house and two new turf fields.

The growth would be centred on West Campus, to create a new athletic hub for Gaels varsity sports.

It’s worrisome that Athletics is fixated on such ambitious expansion. Phases 2 and 3 of the Queen’s Centre imploded just four years ago, costing the student body millions of dollars. Somehow, the “postponement” has never been publicly explained.

Many questions still need to be answered about the potential move westward. Is this project more financially viable than the ARC? How will Athletics ensure adequate transportation for fans from Main to West Campus?

Student apathy is another concern. Aside from Frosh Week and “Fauxcoming,” the football team struggles to attract widespread support, drawing just 2,432 fans for a tilt on Oct. 20 against the Toronto Varsity Blues. (Richardson Stadium seats 10,258.) If students only trek to West for marquee football games, they won’t exert themselves to watch less-renowned teams.

That issue lies at the crux of Athletics’ most pressing concern — finding a stable home for Gaels hockey.

The proposed West Campus expansion includes the construction of a rink, which Queen’s has lacked since Jock Harty Arena was torn down in 2007.

While technically “on-campus,” a West Campus arena would be even further from most students than the Memorial Centre. Students simply don’t want to leave Main Campus to watch Gaels hockey, and moving West wouldn’t bolster crowds.

The current setup at Memorial is far from ideal. On the verge of a milestone provincial title, women’s hockey was relocated to the Cataraqui Arena for Rounds 1 and 2 of this year’s OUA playoffs — nearly 10 km northwest of campus. The reason for displacement? A beer gardens for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts curling championships.

This isn’t a sustainable model for any university team. A permanent arrangement is necessary — preferably one that would actually draw students to games.

The state of Queen’s athletic facilities should begin to crystallize in the coming years. The timely completion of Nixon Field was a boon for the University, but the gulf between rugby and hockey facilities and the feasibility of West Campus expansion must be addressed.

Right now, the concerns outweigh the certainties. It’s on Queen’s Athletics to provide a definitive picture to the students it serves.

— Nick Faris

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