Ryerson University has suspended its men's hockey team for seven days after players were caught drinking on a road trip to the United States. It's a tough response that reflects the desire of some postsecondary institutions to make sure that athletes conduct themselves as ambassadors for their school, university officials say.
Players admit that they were drinking at the team's hotel in New Jersey during a mid-October road trip to play exhibition games against Princeton University, against team rules, and that hotel staff received noise complaints. The Rams will forfeit two games, head coach Graham Wise was suspended for four games and assistant coach Lawrence Smith was dismissed from the team.
Ryerson's student athlete handbook specifically prohibits drinking alcohol "for the duration of road trips" – a strict but not unique policy. McGill University enforces the same rule, while several other Canadian schools have outlawed drinking at hotels arranged by the team – including the University of Western Ontario and the University of Saskatchewan – or en route to and from road games. However, several other universities have no such rule, allowing athletes who are of legal age to make their own choices when travelling.
"This isn't a value statement on whether you should drink alcohol or not drink alcohol," said Ivan Joseph, Ryerson's director of athletics. "But when you're representing the Rams and you're a varsity athlete, these are the policies that we hold, that we believe make for a better-performing student and a better-performing athlete."
The players were drinking beer at their hotel, and although team members and university officials declined to discuss details of the evening, it "involved more than just one beer," Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said. Hotel employees declined to comment for privacy reasons, but Mr. Joseph said the hotel received noise complaints. He did not know whether the players involved were all of legal drinking age in New Jersey, which is 21.
"We didn't do anything illegal, there was nothing broken," said Andrew Buck, 25, a forward and the team's captain. "We made mistakes and we're going to deal with the punishment."
When the suspension was handed down on Monday afternoon, "there was definitely some frustration" among players, Mr. Buck said, but they have since "come to terms" with the decision. Other players declined requests for comment.
The team's head coach, Mr. Wise, received a longer suspension not because he condoned the players' drinking, but because "he has a responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen," Mr. Joseph said. He declined to comment on why Mr. Smith was let go.
Ryerson's alcohol policies for student athletes have been enforced once before, in 2009, when the women's volleyball team was handed an identical one-week, two-game suspension, reportedly for drinking in a team dressing room.
The men's hockey squad, which has five wins and two losses in its first seven games, will forfeit matches against the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Queen's University scheduled this week, and will be without much of its coaching staff for subsequent contests against the Royal Military College of Canada and Carleton University.
To observers who feel the penalty is too harsh, or that Ryerson's road-trip policy is too strict, Mr. Joseph counters that the players were well aware they were breaking the rules. "You know, it's a privilege to play for the Ryerson Rams, and part of that privilege says that these are the rules that govern play. And if you choose to be a part of our team, then you accept that these rules are sacrifices," he said. "And we all make sacrifices to be a part of this team."