If you watch WTEN/WXXA-TV photographer Justin Andrews’s YouTube video of the aftermath of Saturday’s Union-Rensselaer game at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., there’s a moment around the 48-second mark where Union coach Rick Bennett, while being restrained by officials, attempts to throw a punch at RPI coach Seth Appert.
Full disclosure: I’ve known Appert since we both worked at Denver in the late 1990s and consider him a friend. That relationship does not factor into this discussion, however.
Based on the clip, however, it appears Bennett’s fist connects with the helmet of Milos Bubela, an RPI player trying to keep the coaches separated.
Tossing a haymaker at an opposing player, one would assume, was not Bennett’s intent. But it sure looks like that’s what happened. If that’s the case, Bennett needs to be severely punished.
Look, I didn’t see the game. I don’t know what transpired leading up to that final faceoff and the ensuing chaos. I’m not absolving others involved in the fracas for their transgressions. They, too, should be punished.
That said, rule no. 1 for people of authority—coaches, officials, and the like—in amateur sports is never, ever get physical with a student-athlete from another team. What Bennett did wasn’t as egregious as ex-Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes slugging a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl, but it happened. And as Ohio State president Harold Enarson said the following day at a press conference announcing Hayes’ dismissal, “There isn’t a university or athletic conference in this country that would permit a coach to physically assault a college athlete.”
Sunday, Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin suspended Bennett for the team’s next two games. He’s still allowed to run practices during the week. There’s also the chance ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell could discipline Bennett. There’s also a chance—a pretty good one, in fact—that it won’t be enough.
So what constitutes an appropriate punishment? Should Bennett be fired? Without talking to anyone involved in the melee, I’m fairly confident he wasn’t trying to slug Bubela. I could give Bennett the benefit of the doubt, but zero-tolerance types could make a pretty strong case for his ouster.
Putting intent aside, however, this sure looks like a case of a coach making physical contact with an opposing player.
That just can’t happen—ever. Bennett must be suspended for the rest of this season.