To Ryerson president Sheldon Levy, sweeping media coverage on the suspension of the school’s men’s hockey team, an eruption of online criticism and an Ontario judge’s thumbs up all meant the same thing: nothing.
Levy said the university knew its “true north” when it made the call to punish the athletes.
On Nov. 4, Ryerson athletics director Ivan Joseph held an impromptu press conference announcing the suspension of the Rams men’s hockey team because players drank alcohol during a road trip to Princeton, N.J. — a violation of the student-athlete code of conduct.
While the team was forced to forfeit two games, head coach Graham Wise was suspended for four and assistant coach Lawrence Smith no longer works for the school.
The story, unleashed to the online news world with a Ryerson Rams press release, quickly founds its way to the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, CP24, the National Post and even The Canadian Press, the national wire service.
From there, it was lobbed to the social media soapbox, raising a ruckus on Twitter from the suspension’s yea and nay camps.
But Levy said the administration not only predicted the widespread coverage, it wanted to control it.
“We had to communicate this. We knew it was going to be news,” he said, adding that the school needed some sort of supervision over the story’s “vehicle of communications.”
“This was something that we knew we had to have some control over, how it was communicated. So that’s the way we did it. This wasn’t an action that you could say, ‘let’s not tell anyone.’”
One supporter of the school’s actions is Judge Marvin Zuker, of the Ontario court of justice, who wrote a letter of support to Joseph.
“Too often, universities are criticized for inaction, for doing nothing,” said Zuker, who taught at Ryerson from 1972 to 1981.
“I believe that it sets an important precedent for Ryerson, if not other places, because too often too many universities have been criticized for not doing things when students — whether it’s athletics or otherwise — have done things that they should have been disciplined for and they weren’t.”
But some, like the National Post’s Joe O’Connor, say the team didn’t do anything worth being disciplined for.
O’Connor wrote a column on Nov. 5 arguing “Ryerson’s killjoys” punished the team for doing what “most university students do on the weekend.”
“Getting juiced-up on performance enhancing substances is a serious foul, to be sure, and a punishable offence,” he wrote. “But a Canadian university hockey team having a few cold beers — after a hockey game? What could be more Canadian than that?”
Still, Levy said the university carefully planned its decision after “deliberately” putting away politics and public opinion, adding that when an administration confuses the two, big mistakes could be made.
“You do what’s right in this case, not what’s popular,” he said.
“I wasn’t listening or even caring, to be honest, if someone said the (suspension) was good or not good. It was, in our judgment, the right thing to do.”
The Rams hockey team returned to the Mattamy Athletic Centre Monday for its first training session since the incident.
They play their first post-suspension game against Royal Military College on Friday.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 13, 2013.