Yesterday I had a brief Twitter exchange with friend of the blog @b1rky (I deleted my part, since I didn’t feel like getting in a debate with 14 different people at the time) that stemmed from these two tweets:

I took some offense to this, having worked through the NCAA experience myself, and I hope Birky would agree he’s gone a touch heavy on the hyperbole here.

His tweets came in the wake of the information that one of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects, Mark Everson, along with three other players from Harvard, are being forced to “take a year off” in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.

From CollegeHockeyNews.com:

In August, the university launched an investigation into students who were enrolled in a government class for allegedly plagiarizing answers or inappropriately collaborating on the class’ final exam, which was take home.

First things first: Harvard assigns “take-home tests?” Or rather, “take home finals?” Is there a damn thing you can’t find out on the internet right now? Is using your buddies to come up with the correct answers any different? I mean, I don’t know the full story of this particular case – and this article isn’t meant to be about that particular case – just…Geez.

Anyway, I attended the University of Alaska Anchorage – not exactly Harvard, I know – and here was my experience from an education standpoint:

The requirements for getting any degree are zero percent different from any other student. You still write papers, attend labs, take tests, blah blah blah. There’s no help in that regard, which I probably didn’t need to point out. The main difference, really, is absences. As a player on an Alaskan team, we flew out on Wednesdays to get to the lower 48 states, so we could wake up there Thursday, get a practice in and shake the legs out, and be ready for Friday. This was every other week, so clearly, we were missing a decent chunk of our classes during the season.

We had some help in course scheduling to make sure we didn’t have classes to attend of Fridays (what with it being game day and all). As you get towards being a senior, it’s more and more difficult to pick-and-choose (sometimes they’re only offered once, at a certain time), so you can’t always have it your way.

Rene Bourque, shown here trembling in fear after giving me the puck

On those road Thursdays, there was an allotted time for classwork. You were confined to your hotel room from __ until __ (usually a couple hours), and coaches physically came around and checked up on you. With the internet as it is today, you can always avoid work, but most guys were good about actually chipping away at stuff. If a player was missing a test, the exam was submitted to an assistant coach, who kept that player sequestered and semi-supervised until they were finished.

As with all Universities, some professors are more lenient than others, and the players on the team are good about helping you when you’re doing your scheduling. “Don’t take statistics from Mr. Smith, he doesn’t allow that many absences, Mrs. Jacobs is a season ticket holder at the games and tends to grade easier,” etc, etc.

One thing the team did pay for was tutors – you could probably get one for every class if you wanted. But with a midday practice schedule (we had a three hour block of ice, usually used 90 minutes as a team and 30 alone, depending on schedule), hour gym sessions, classes and a social life, most guys only got them out of desperation.

Players cheat, as students cheat. The difference is as a player, you have 25 built-in friends from day one, and guys have taken a lot of the same classes when you consider there’s four years of students in the dressing room. “Yeah, I still have that paper,” “Sure, I still have those answers.” I will say, it’s not some epidemic – most guys are very good about doing their work, and I doubt there’s a much higher plagiarism rate in sports than out of them – but it does exist.

Teams require that you keep a passing GPA to play (the requirements from school to school are different, but that’s the baseline), and some guys simply can’t hack it. Usually once you fall below a 2.5 grade-point-average you’re required to check into study hall for a daily hour. Still, in my time in Alaska I saw at least three players be ineligible to play for the team due to poor grades. Not every talented hockey player is smart. Not every talented hockey player has a good work ethic. Usually being at least one of those two can help you overcome the other in the classroom, but guys that have neither struggle.

What I never saw, was a person willing to “do our work for us,” or a teacher giving a player the “wink-nod no problem” grade without the guy actually doing the required work. Maybe it happens when the sports are bigger, like in college football. Those guys are borderline celebrities, and I could see some professor letting a Tim Tebow-type get away with the educational equivalent of murder (not that Tim would let them, the pure soul that he is).

But for your average college hockey player, life is just busy. It’s not insanely hard, the education is truly earned, it’s not really all that crazy. It’s just…busy.

It was also some of the best, and informative years of my life, and I’d hate to have people assume that because I was on the hockey team, I didn’t earn the grades I received.