NCAA to address hazing at national convention

Jake Grovum

With the start of the winter sports season fast approaching, teams’ hopes are sky-high for what the upcoming months might bring.

But the NCAA has planned a hazing summit in an effort to address issues that could occur long before competition starts. The summit will be held in conjunction with the 2008 NCAA National Convention in January.

The theme for the summit is “A Commitment to Action” and will serve to educate university officials about hazing issues.

“The purpose of the summit is to respond to a need,” Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of education outreach, said in the NCAA News publication. “We know many of our institutions are responding to the issue, and this summit will help bring all of that together.”

The summit will also serve to shed light on an issue that “thrives in secrecy” and needs to be discussed, Wilfert said.

Currently, each NCAA member institution is allowed to create its own hazing policies, but NCAA rules mandate they must “protect the health of and provide a safe environment for each of its participating student-athletes.”

At the University, hazing regulations are included in the student-athlete code of conduct and cover a wide range of possible violations.

“It’s not allowed, plain and simple,” Regina Sullivan, associate athletics director, said. “Basically, it is you need to respect one another, make sure whatever you do is fun and voluntary for all people who are participating.”

Head hockey coach Don Lucia addressed hazing issues at the first team meeting, Gopher forward Kyle Okposo said.

“It’s a pretty scary thing actually,” he said. “Some people get alcohol poisoning or whatever and can die; it’s just not something that needs to be implemented.”

The student-athlete code of conduct states hazing is prohibited by the University, not just the athletics department, whether it takes place on or off campus or in connection with any University group or activity.

Hazing is defined as “an act that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of an individual,” and anyone with “firsthand knowledge” of hazing activity could be subject to disciplinary action, according to the code.

Athletics officials educate student-athletes about hazing policies as teams and in the Challenging Athletes’ Minds for Personal Success Life Skills class, Sullivan said, which is mandatory for all scholarship athletes.

“Our athletics director doesn’t support any kind of hazing,” Anissa Lightner, assistant Life Skills coordinator, said. “That trickles down to our coaches, which then trickles down to our athletes.”

Sullivan said for the seven years she has been with the University there have been no hazing incidents.

“We do try and educate

our student-athletes about respecting one another,” Sullivan said. “I don’t believe it’s been a big issue here during my tenure.”

For any individual found to be involved in hazing activities, consequences could include suspension or dismissal from the team or the University and withdrawal or cancellation of financial aid, according to the code.

Derek Peltier, Gopher hockey defenseman and team captain, said first years might pick up the pucks after practice or help with equipment, but there is no hazing on the team.

“There’s been so many stories over the last couple years nationally,” he said. “This campus and our team especially have cracked down on it.”

Rochester Century High School dealt with its own hazing issues while Alex Kangas, University first-year student and Gopher goalie, attended high school there.

Since he arrived on campus, Kangas said officials have made it a point to stress their hazing policy.

“They said, ‘don’t do it, it’s not worth it, don’t get yourself in trouble,’ ” he said.

Peltier said he agreed hazing concerns are important and need to be addressed.

“There’s other ways to go around and get to know the freshmen,” he said. “We make sure that we don’t do that and don’t get ourselves in trouble.”