Friday, September 18, 2009

Carleton women's soccer program suspended over hazing incident

It's quite the day for disciplinary stories. The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that Carleton has suspended their women's soccer team over a hazing incident. The team will not play against U of T and Ryerson this weekend, presumably forfeiting those games, and will not take the field again until the university's ongoing investigation is finished.

This could be a big scandal. There may be hazing incidents I'm unaware of, but the last time I can remember an entire team being suspended was in 2005 when McGill forfeited its football season. Queen's Journal sports editors of the time James Bradshaw and Dan Robson ran an excellent piece on the matter, looking at the wider issue of hazing. Of course, that also wound up being the year featuring the Windsor Spitfires' hazing scandal and the fight between Steve Downie and Akim Aliu. The two incidents, coming so close together, turned into a big national story and put a spotlight on hazing in sports. Over time, that spotlight's dimmed, but this story may renew it.

However, don't assume that the Carleton team did anything differently than most sports teams. The issue is that "hazing" is often very loosely defined, and there's a fine line between the rookie rituals that most sports teams have and what may constitute "hazing". These also go beyond just sports or particular universities; see this feature by Monica Heisey on the practices that have taken place during Queen's orientation
week over the years for an example.

It's tough to draw a line in the sand against hazing. For one thing, most sports teams are very tight-knit groups, so it's difficult for an outsider to get accurate information on what really goes on. For another, the general issue that seems to be at play in defining hazing versus rookie rituals is if players consent to the activities, but it must be tough for a rookie trying to gain acceptance with a team to resist peer pressure. Finally, it seems that most of the responses to hazing incidents that become publicized involve suspending the team; how many athletes would want to throw away a year of their career (and the careers of their friends) by going to athletic officials or the media just because they felt uncomfortable about something?

The future of the Carleton women's soccer program is rather cloudy at the moment, but it's impossible to predict exactly what will happen on the basis of the extremely limited information released so far. The competitive effects for the rest of the OUA could be interesting, though. The Ravens have played five games so far, winning twice, losing twice and drawing once. They sit fourth in the OUA East with seven points. Their victories came against Ryerson and RMC, and their draw came against Nipissing. If the Carleton program is suspended for the rest of the season, as seems likely, it will be interesting to see if those results are nullified. From a competitive standpoint, that would seem to be the fair thing to do, as every other team will likely gain full points from Carleton's forfeits. However, it's not as if Carleton fradulently gained those victories or was using an ineligible player (the usual reason for forfeits); their suspension is from their own university, not the OUA. Regardless of what's decided, it will be an interesting situation to follow.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

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