College restricts captains’ practices, will allow pick-up

President Schapiro and Harry Sheehy, director of athletics, clarified the College’s interpretation of a NESCAC ban on “captains’ practices” yesterday, declaring out of season activities allowable only if they are “voluntary and of a pick-up variety.”

In the past few weeks, schools around the NESCAC have been reevaluating their policies on out of season team workouts. The discussions come in part due to an accident involving a member of the Colby men’s ice hockey team several weeks ago during a captains’ practice. During an informal practice session on an off-campus rink the team had rented, a Colby player was struck in the face with a puck while not wearing a helmet. The resulting investigation prompted the recent examination by NESCAC member schools on their off-season practice policies.

Sheehy said the NESCAC presidents had been planning on addressing the issue of captain’s practices well before the Colby injury, but the incident brought an added focus and intensity to the discussions. Peter Gooding, athletic director at Amherst, told The Amherst Student the reevaluation is also partially due to a sense felt by the NESCAC presidents that “athletes playing sports year round is too much.”

“There’s a general sense that the out of season activities have ratcheted up beyond the voluntary and I don’t think there’s any question that’s true,” Sheehy said. “I think the reasons for that are misunderstood.”

He said Williams students have an understandable desire to exercise, and it’s unfair to expect students who are on a varsity athletic team not to stay in shape when their sport is not in season. The crucial element, however, is that nobody is being forced to attend practice. While some tinkering “around the margins” was necessary, Sheehy said captains’ practices have traditionally been overwhelmingly voluntary.

The understanding reached yesterday by Schapiro and Sheehy specifies that out of season activity cannot be mandatory, and coaches cannot be present under any circumstances or have team members report back to them about attendance. Also, no team representative may script a practice plan or conduct drills aimed at improving a specific skill.

Scrimmages against teams from other colleges are also prohibited, regardless of whether the scrimmage takes place on- or off-campus.

“The rule of thumb should be when you look at an event does it look like you’re watching a practice or a pick-up game,” Sheehy said.

According to Sheehy, the policy allows the NESCAC to keep out of season athletics under control without being overly restrictive on student-athletes.

He said there would be punitive sanctions imposed against a team if the captains’ practice policy was violated and those sanctions could include the shortening of regular season play as well as a later start for officially-permitted practice sessions.

Some argue the restriction on captain’s practices is in many ways simply a restriction on student-athlete’s freedom of recreation. “Where does the student’s freedom of recreation formally end and where does the spirit of the regulations begin?” asked Gooding. Sheehy said his counterpart at Amherst has a point. “It seems rather ridiculous to spend $33,000 a year and then you’re told these five people from Brooks House can go to the basketball court but these five people on the basketball team can’t,” Sheehy said. “On one level, students playing club sports are living in America, while those on varsity teams are playing on the iron field.”

Regulating out of season practice, however, is not as easy as simply saying coaches may not be present. In some sports, especially hockey and lacrosse, the complication of expensive equipment comes into play. If, for example, a lacrosse goalie does not own his own equipment, Sheehy asked if College equipment be made available for use in during informal events.

Ben Fash ’04, a goalie on the men’s hockey team, said this was not a major issue on the men’s hockey team where the goalies own all of their equipment – though the College does help defray some of the cost.

Sheehy said the issue of goalie equipment would be one that he will continue to look at. As for renting out hockey rink space, a common practice among NESCAC men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, Sheehy said the College will adopt a policy similar to one instituted at Tufts. The teams will be allowed to rent space provided they seek written permission from the athletic director.