Jan 23: Students, don’t claim a victory with ‘gender-neutral’ option just yet

Next year Ohio University will give students the option of rooming with a member of the opposite sex. Gasp! How revolutionary!

That’s right, starting in the 2011-2012 academic year students – almost exclusively upperclassmen – can apply to maybe be placed in one of 50 dorm room beds provided as part of the university’s one-year PC-ed out “gender-neutral” housing trial run.

The pilot program is not about creating some sort of social experiment to see if boys and girls can set aside their inherent differences and create long-lasting Platonic relationships. It’s about appeasing the LGBT community, and making OU look sympathetic to students’ wishes.

The thought is that gay or lesbian students might feel more comfortable living with a friend of the opposite sex, rather than a stranger of the same. Makes sense, no? Off campus, it’s already a common practice.

Sure, there are ways for dormers to change roommates on the basis of their sexual identity, but the current process – aside from the bureaucratic hoops that must be leapt through – is far from ideal. Is a person who’s uncomfortable “outing” himself or herself to a roommate going to be more comfortable telling the residence life staff?

Students and parents pay the school a pretty penny to live in the dorms, which by the way is a requirement for freshmen and sophomores. They should at least get to live with someone they’re compatible with.

OU isn’t exactly blazing the Appalachian Trail here. A number of other schools, including that bastion of liberal ideology Miami University, are ahead of Ohio’s first and finest with programs in place already.

The application for coed housing – at least the way it has been conveyed by university officials – appears to be more extensive than the one students filled out to, you know, attend Ohio University. It even has its own essay section where students must explain how they can “add or benefit from living in such a community.”

Of course the school is worried that heterosexual couples will ignore the spirit of the new program for the chance shack up on a nightly basis. Here’s a hint: if a couple is willing apply to share a dorm room, odds are they’re already doing it, and making one of their current roommates uncomfortable doing so.

If two sophomores want to ruin their relationship by spending every waking moment with each other, so be it. They’ll learn from their experience or probably end up getting married.

Besides if mom and dad are paying the bills and aren’t too keen on the lovebirds pushing their beds (and bed bugs) together, the problem is going to solve itself.

But OU officials are making huge strides offering a gender-neutral housing option. They’re showing how much they value diversity and the voice of students. Just ask them.

And remember that when tuition costs go up.

Jan. 16: Not your typically ‘sappy’ seasonal column

The first thaw of the spring is holiday in my family. It’s not that we despise the cold Northeast Ohio winter weather, far from it. The thaw means there’s work to be done. It’s time for the first run of the season.

My grade school teachers in Columbus thought it strange when I explained to them I would be missing class to go make maple syrup. Even when the words came from father’s mouth as he was signing me out, they seemed vexed.

“You’re taking him out of school to make maple syrup? Like Mrs. Butterworth?”

My old man couldn’t say if it was anything like Mrs. Butterworth. He’d never touch the stuff.

“We make real maple syrup,” he would simply reply.

And we would be off to Gustavus, a small rural town in Trumbull County where he was born and raised.

By the time we got to my grandparents’ farm, Papa Logan was already out in the sugar woods with my father’s five brothers and their kids. We had to change and hurry, but Grammy would send us with supplies for the woods – hotdogs, rolls, soda and the like.

The imprints on the ground from the old Allis Chalmers half-track were our walkway. The maple trees surrounding us were adorned with old tin sap buckets. My dad would take one off, and we would watch – for just a minute – as the sap dripped from the spile onto the muddy, leafy ground below.

We could smell the Sugar House before we caught sight of it. The delectable aroma of boiling sap traveled quickly through the brisk forest air and sped our pace. I hopped the creek that ran next to old wooden shack, while my dad grabbed a beer from the old sap bucket floating in the water.

Papa would be inside with the uncles, skimming the foam off the boiling sap in the wood-fired evaporator pans. We could hardly see any of them through all the steam.

Once Papa fired up the half-track, my cousins and I would hop on the sap cart behind it and hold on for dear life as he navigated the rugged Sugar Woods trail.

He would stop by a cluster of Maples and we’d jump off with 5-gallon plastic buckets, pour the sap into them, and lug them back to cart to empty into the tank. When the tank was full, it was back to the Sugar House.

By then, the first quart of syrup was ready. Papa would pour golden-brown nectar into an old tin coffee mug and we would pass it around, each taking a sip from the first run of the season.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of maple syrup. We never made money off of it. Grammy’s pancakes the next morning were all the payment we needed.

Holidays are best spent with family. We just spend ours sloshing through mud – with sap splashing and soaking our clothes

Jan. 9: Time for ‘adult conversations’ during elections

I was sitting snug on my couch in Athens Saturday afternoon enjoying a John Wayne movie marathon when my roommate walked in, grabbed the remote and changed the channel. On the other side of the country Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. Congresswoman from Arizona, was being life-flighted to a Tucson-area hospital after being shot in the head outside a supermarket.

Rep. Giffords was speaking with her constituents at an event called “Congress on Your Corner” when a gunman approached her an opened fire. Chaos ensued. The aftermath left six dead – including federal judge John M. Roll and a 9-year-old girl – as many as 20 wounded, and Giffords fighting for her life.

The suspected gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is in custody.

I sat transfixed to the television, watching as the anchor fumbled through conflicting reports, breaking news when there was no new news to break.

Politicians and pundits alike expressed their shock that a public servant could fall victim to such senseless act of violence. They were equally mortified that it occurred as Giffords was in the midst of fulfilling her most basic but fundamental role of a legislator – listening and interacting with her constituents.

Shock was my initial reaction, I thought. Then I became cold and my stomach began to churn. I wasn’t shocked. This is the current state of American political culture.

Politics is and will always be polarizing. Different people have different views, and in a country of over 300 million, there are bound to be disagreements.

The beauty of representative democracy is that we vote for and try to elect officials that share our views. They take our views and ideas with them and engage in debate, from the town halls to the halls of Congress.

‘Adult conversation’ was the buzzword around the Capitol in the days preceding Saturday’s assassination attempt. Legislators needed to put an end to ‘partisan politics’ and ‘reach across the aisle’ after November’s midterm election.

The months leading up to the election told a very different story. Politicians sought to energize their bases by demonizing their opponents. Adversaries were ‘unpatriotic and ‘fascist’.

Florida Republican congressman Daniel Webster wanted Taliban-esque decrees against women. Nevada senator Harry Reid voted to use tax dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted sex-offenders. Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady even voted to kill your dog.

And Giffords, a Democrat, appeared on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s election ‘target list’, with Tucson in the crosshairs.

Palin didn’t want her supporters to go out with elk hunting rifles and shoot up all the congressmen and women who had voted for health care reform. She wanted to see the Republicans take back the House, and they did. And now they want to have ‘adult conversations.’

How about adult conversations during political campaigns? How about adult conversations on cable news shows?

Doctors at University Medical Center say that Gabrielle Giffords is expected to survive and make a recovery. I hope we can say the same about the political environment that put her there.

Tennessee officials: ‘Swiperboy’ didn’t violate NCAA regulations

Renaldo 'Swiperboy' Woolridge and former Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Well it looks like Tennessee is at it again. Reports surfaced earlier this week that Volunteers basketball player/aspiring hip hop artist Renaldo Woolridge may have violated NCAA compliance regulations.

Like Vols coach Bruce Pearl didn’t have enough on his plate.

To no one’s surprise Tennessee officials have vehemently denied that Woolridge — perhaps better know for his skills with a mic than with a ball — received any improper benefits when he allegedly rented the upstairs  room of a Knoxville campus bar to shoot his newest video fo’ free.

From the  Chattanooga Times Free Press:

UT officials said that research done by the school’s compliance staff found that no violation occurred because nothing was recorded and Woolridge simply was scouting the location for possible future use.

Woolridge’s talents as a hip-hop artist under the name “Swiperboy” are well-documented, and his music videos have been shown at UT football and basketball games.

He has been working exclusively with the Volunteers’ scout team, has played in only two games since the end of November and did not dress for Saturday’s loss to Connecticut because of an ankle injury.

The drinking establishment in question, the New Amsterdam, apparently wasn’t on the list of campus bars Vols football and basketball players were banned from frequenting after reports surfaced that a number of players weren’t charged a cover on Thursday nights at another Knoxville bar eloquently titled Bar Knoxville.

(Of course, that might have also had a little something to do with a couple football players deciding to pummel an off-duty officer outside Bar Knoxville back in July. Chicken or the egg, right?)

Regardless, UT’s findings completely contradict statements made to the Knoxville News Sentinel from an unnamed source apparently with intament knowledge of the New Amsterdam.

From the News Sentinel:

“It was given to him by the New Amsterdam for free because we do support him and UT sports in general,” the source said.

“He shot the video, like I said, to support UT. It was basically done at the New Amsterdam because it’s one of the favorite spots for UT college students.”

The cost for leasing the room for special occasions was not available.

It seems there’s one easy way to get to the bottom of this caper — watch the music video. Unfortunately the video for Swiperboy’s newest single “Snap Back” appears to be a pretty ambitious project, as the part shot (or not shot) at the New Amsterdam was only small portion.

And if Woolridge doesn’t want to hire dancers he can always bring back the Vols’ recruiting hostesses.

— bartftc@gmail.com

Twitter: @bart_logan

Q & A with David Ridpath

Dr. B. David Ridpath is an assistant professor at the Ohio University School of Recreation and Sports Sciences where he teaches courses in sports law, marketing and issues in intercollegiate athletics. Prior to coming to Ohio, he worked as an NCAA compliance officer and spent time teaching at the Mississippi State and Marshall University sports administration programs among other institutions. Ridpath owns a wealth of knowledge with respect to collegiate athletics and the issues and regulations facing student athletes. He has been interviewed on ESPN’s SportsCenter and in The Sporting News. He is also a regular guest on ESPN’s Outside The Lines.

Bart Logan: You used to work as an NCAA compliance officer. What were your duties? Were you out of Indianapolis?

David Ridpath: Actually, I worked for an institution. I worked at Marshall University (as the) assistant athletic director for compliance and student services. Before that I had worked at Weber State University, which is a school in Utah, and also coached here, and then worked a Division II school in Georgia. So, I’ve never really worked, per se, for the national office. Compliance is essentially – assuring to the best of your ability – having systems in place to NCAA conference and institutional rules and regulations with regards to athletics. That’s essentially what it is.

While I was one person – you typically have a staff, but I didn’t really have a staff at Marshall – but compliance with rules is everyone’s responsibility. When you have a far-reaching athletic department like here where you have 300 athletes, 400 athletes, and a huge department, and other people who are very interested in athletics, it can be a very difficult job.

Logan: Were you the person who would run the athletes through during the year and outline what would be a violation?

Ridpath: Absolutely. You have several meetings with teams – sometimes with individuals athletes, obviously with coaches – just saying, “This is what can be done. This is what can’t be done. This is what you need to do.” You really tell the athletes, sadly it almost got to the point of just like “don’t do anything until you ask” almost.

Ohio University assistant professor of sports and administration David Ridpath. (Courtesy of USA Today)

You feel bad about that because you want to give them a little bit of freedom but it almost became that way. You try to have layers of protection and certainly the first-line person is the coach. But, if you have a coach who’s a little more desperate to win than to follow the rules, it can become a little more problematic. Everybody has to be pulling on the same rope and that doesn’t happen very often.

Logan: Do you think that there’s a double standard for the big sport athletes – the football players, the basketball players – than other smaller athletics in terms of revenue production?

Ridpath: Yes. And I know that for a fact. How it works: the NCAA national office exists for the membership. The membership does make the rules in that very big, thick rulebook… That national office wields a tremendous amount of authority in interpreting what those rules mean.

You and I might look at a sentence that says, “this desk is brown.” I think we can both agree with that. That might be an NCAA rule. Somebody could come and say, “it’s actually brown and light brown and there’s a trim.” There’s a lot of grey area in NCAA rules and that’s where the national office yields a lot of authority. But, I’ll tell you who wields more authority – conference commissioners, big time schools, TV networks, and bowl committees.

You just look at Ohio State situation. (Paul) Hoolahan of the New Orleans Bowl… basically admitted to everybody “Yeah, I called the NCAA. I called Ohio State. I called the Big Ten. I told them we need to protect the integrity of this game.” OK? I know that Jim Delany of the Big Ten and Mike Slive of the SEC don’t sit a twiddle their thumbs and wait for this national office to make a decision. They’re on the phone. They’re talking to people and they’re putting an immense pressure. Not so much like, “hey, I hope you can really find something that works.” It’s more like: “here’s what we need. Make it work.”

The interpretation for the Ohio State situation is in no way related. I’ve actually been working on this for the past few days and there’s going to be more to come, but let me just show you an example. This took weeks for somebody to finally say this. You figure that if it was an interpretation the NCAA would say, “Here’s why we did not suspend the Ohio State players.” … Here’s the wording of why those five athletes at Ohio State were eligible… (The NCAA interpreted that they were) ‘Innocently involved.’

Would you agree that they were innocently involved? There’s [sic] been mountains of evidence. They knew what they were doing was wrong. (For) Gene Smith, who’s a very good athletic director and a good guy, to sit there and say, “We didn’t educate them enough,” is just a load of crap to essentially throw a smokescreen up.

Then it says, “No competitive advantage was gained.” Now typically that could mean no competitive advantage was gained by selling the stuff. I would say that’s true. But the other thing is the fact that they were kept on the team. Those five had a significant effect on that game. If those five didn’t play, Ohio State loses by three touchdowns, even though Arkansas couldn’t catch a pass…

NCAA rules are made to be twisted, turned and abused. And, it’s usually the powerful that get that consideration… I used the example of this with a friend of mine that was with the NCAA. I said, “let’s face facts here… If I was still at Marshall University and Randy Moss’ dad… was shopping him around for $180,000, would Randy Moss have been able to stay eligible?” Their answer was probably not. “If Randy Moss was selling his stuff when I was at Marshall – Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington – would they have been eligible for a bowl game?” Highly doubtful.

In this case a lot of people got involved who are very, very powerful and basically the bowl director – the Sugar Bowl – let the cat out of the bag. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes. So that’s the fundamental problem. It’s arbitrary, capricious and not enforced equitably across the board. The standards are nebulous. I could look at almost any NCAA rule – and I gave you that pretty silly example – and find a way to make it work.

Transfer goaltender fills big skates

It’s no short order replacing a legend and for Ohio hockey, Paul Marshall is as close as it comes. The former goaltender who graduated last spring owns virtually all Bobcats’ records in net — wins, shutouts, saves, goals against average. The list goes on.

There was an air of uncertainty surrounding the hockey program after Marshall’s departure. Head coach Dan Morris had recruited a pair of back-stoppers in Bryan Danczak and Fedor Dushkin, but said he questioned whether either was ready for the grueling American Collegiate Hockey Association schedule.

Meanwhile in Huntsville, Ala. Blake MacNicol had a decision to make. The Milan, Ohio-native and University of Alabama – Huntsville netminder  had missed virtually his entire senior-year season after breaking his hand, and his team was in the midst of changes.

The Chargers — the only NCAA Division I hockey team below the Mason-Dixon line — had enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in school history, which included  a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. But with head coach Danton Cole resigning to take up a position with USA hockey, and a pair strong incoming goaltenders, his future with the program was no longer assured.

“I would’ve had to petition (to play) another year,” MacNicol said. “If that didn’t work out I would’ve been stuck there without hockey.”

MacNicol didn’t want to risk the latter so he decided a change in scenery was in order

The MacNicol family has a history at Ohio University. His father Alex played on the OU hockey team in the late 60s and early 70s, back when it was a NCAA varsity program. It’s where he met his wife Sharon and where they had sent Blake’s older brother Sean.

MacNicol’s father has remained close to the hockey program since his playing days, and once the decision was made to leave UAH, he was on the phone with Morris.

“(MacNicol) wanted to transfer here and we didn’t have any goalies left,” Morris said.”It’s worked out for both parties. We’re happy that Blake’s here and I think he’s happy he’s here.

“We wanted some senior leadership — somebody who’d been through it — to help the young goalies out and give them some confidence before we put them in the war zone.”

The transition was far from seamless, however. The Bobcats opened up the ACHA season 1-2-1 and although the team as a whole struggled, it was clear that MacNicol was not up to par.

“He played 37 minutes last year before his injury and you could tell right away (this season that) he hadn’t played much,” Morris said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re just not out their playing — getting pucks to you — it’s going to take awhile.”

But after the disappointing start, Ohio has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation. The ‘Cats carried an 11-game winning streak into their winter break and have been unbeaten in regulation since Oct. 22, and MacNicol has been at the heart of it all.

“It was a big adjustment because I hadn’t played many games in a year and a half or two years once I got injured,” MacNicol said. “It always helps once guys get to know each other better and you get to know the freshman better. You start clicking as a team and that was a big thing.”

Despite the impressive turnaround, which has seen the Bobcats rise to No. 4 in the nation in the latest ACHA rankings, MacNicol said that he and the team have yet to reach their peak potential.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re not where we need to be at,” he said. “It was nice to get those wins, but once you’re playing some tougher competition, that’s when we’ll see.”

MacNicol said he knows he is filling some pretty big skates, but he doesn’t dwell on that. He has more important things in mind.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” he said. “Winning a national championship — that’s our goal.”

Marshall may have all the records, but if MacNicol can bring a championship to Athens — something Marshall never could — he’ll be a legend in his own right.

(This story was originally published in The Post)