On Feb. 23, the Daily Gazette published a column entitled “Union College: Act like women’s hockey matters.” The piece condemned Union for its decision to keep Women’s Ice Hockey Coach Claudia Asano Barcomb on staff despite her consistently abysmal record and stated that the school is treating men’s and women’s hockey unequally.
The piece was written by Mark McGuire, executive sports editor at the Daily Gazette, who argues in the column that the college’s decision to not fire Asano Barcomb “leaves the impression the administration cares about men’s sports and doesn’t about women’s,” and suggests that Union, “leaves itself open to prima facie charges that it views women’s sports in a lesser light than men’s.”
Athletic Director Jim McLaughlin said of McGuire’s column, “I thought it was incredibly mean spirited. There were obvious facts in there, but the tenor and delivery of the article were mean spirited.”
The facts McLaughlin referred to included statistics concerning the women’s ice hockey team’s record over the past nine years under Asano Barcomb’s leadership.
The Dutchwomen finished the 2015-2016 season with an overall record of 0-28-6, the program’s first winless season since its elevation to Division I in 2003. Additionally, throughout her nine-year tenure with the Dutchwomen Asano Barcomb holds an abysmal overall record of 36-236-32.
This type of result is a common denominator between women’s ice hockey coaches at Union since the team was elevated to Division I. Fred Quistgard, Union’s women’s ice hockey coach during the team’s 2003-2004 inaugural season in Division I, went 4-29-1 that season before resigning to pursue other career interests. And Tim Gerrish, the team’s coach for three seasons from 2004 until 2007, held an overall record of 12-77-2.
According to McLaughlin, “When the women’s ice hockey team was elevated to Division I during the 2003-2004 season, they were thrust into the ECAC, college hockey’s most competitive league in the country. We are really proud to be members of ECAC Hockey because all of the league’s members sponsor both men’s and women’s teams.”
McLaughlin said that, additionally, “There are a lot of other reasons the team is struggling. For example, the pool of women’s hockey players is a lot smaller than the men’s pool. If you look at USA Hockey’s most recent figures, there are about 110,000 high school aged men and only about 13,000 high school aged women playing hockey.”
He noted that the fact that Union does not offer athletic scholarships puts the college at a disadvantage when recruiting for the women’s hockey team. He said, “Teams like Minnesota, Boston University and Boston College are scholarship schools so they are able to recruit the best players. However, on the men’s side, after the top schools finish recruiting there is still a significant pool of athletes left over, while on the women’s side the pool is substantially smaller. Also since Union is a non-scholarship school, playing here comes with a real commitment from families.”
McLaughlin also referenced the team’s incremental progress over Asano Barcomb’s term. “Over Claudia’s first several years, I was very pleased with the team’s progress. The culture was changing,” said McLaughlin, “At the end of the 2012-2013 season the team had acquired seven wins, the most in program history at that time. The next year, the team secured nine wins. Of course, Claudia and I are both disappointed with the team’s performance this year and we want to see better results for the women, but there have been some unforeseen difficulties this season, including some injuries to individuals the team was counting on to score.”
“The men struggled early as well,” added McLaughlin. The men’s ice hockey team was elevated to Division 1 in the 1991-1992 season. In their inaugural season, the team’s overall record was 3-21-1 and over the next nine years, the team lost more games than it won in every season except two — the 1993-1994 season and the 1996-1997 season.
And, in their first nine years playing as a Division I squad, the Dutchmen had only three separate coaches, similar to the Dutchwomen’s current situation. Only in the past six years has the men’s ice hockey team enjoyed resounding success, including three Cleary Cups and an NCAA National Championship.
So, it took the men’s ice hockey team nearly 20 years to develop into the national powerhouse it is today. Comparing the men’s and women’s programs, as McGuire does in his column, is difficult simply due to the difference in time each team has been around for, and therefore, the time each team has had to develop to its full potential.
In his column, McGuire also makes a comparison between the women’s ice hockey program and the men’s football program, referencing the fact that longtime Men’s Football Coach John Audino unexpectedly retired at the beginning of this year after a string of losing seasons. Audino had been head coach of the men’s football team for 24 years, and the football team played its first game on Nov. 11, 1886.
In contrast, Asano Barcomb just completed her ninth season as head coach — only the third coach in the women’s ice hockey team’s 13-year existence as a Division I squad — making comparison between the football and women’s hockey teams difficult as well.
McGuire’s statement that the issue may open the college up to “charges that it views women’s sports in a lesser light than men’s” — potentially implying a Title IX violation — also proves difficult to substantiate.
According to the NCAA, Title IX requires equal provision of coaching between men’s and women’s teams. The criteria used to evaluate equitable provision of coaching are the coaches’ availability and assignment.
Unequal availability would be demonstrated by a team from one gender being forced to rely more on part-time and assistant coaches while the opposite gendered team had a full-time staff, and unequal assignment would be demonstrated by one gender having an inexperienced coach while the opposite gender had a very experienced coach.
Regarding these criteria, both the men’s and women’s hockey programs at Union have four coaches, one head coach, one associate head coach, one assistant coach and one volunteer assistant coach, and all of these coaches hold formidable qualifications and experience for their respective roles.
Barcomb was an assistant coach at Harvard University for five years before Union hired her as the women’s hockey head coach, and she served a four-year term as a member of the NCAA Rules Committee. Men’s Ice Hockey Head Coach Rick Bennett was an assistant coach for the men’s hockey team at Union for six years before being named head coach, and he served as an assistant coach at Providence for five years before that.
McLaughlin went on to state, “When we evaluate our programs, there is a lot more we look at than just wins and losses. We look at progress, and sometimes that progress is very incremental. We also look at the team’s academic and personal accomplishments. These student-athletes are here to get a world-class education. We are looking for student-athletes who work hard and excel in the classroom, on the field and in the community.”
“I was beyond disappointed in several of McGuire’s comments. Two lines in particular included when he said, ‘If you couldn’t care less about Union women’s hockey — and there’s a good chance you don’t,’ and when he suggested that Union had no concern for women’s athletics. Those were just mean-spirited. We value the accomplishments of all of our student-athletes at Union, men and women, and we are especially proud of the accomplishments of our women’s teams, including the recent success of volleyball, basketball, lacrosse and individuals in track and swimming,” added McLaughlin, “It’s very easy to evaluate the situation from the outside.”