Union College is bringing back arguably the worst coach in college hockey history — inarguably if you are going by the record.
For a 10th season.
A 10th season of not just losing, not just stunning losing, but historic losing.
If you couldn’t care less about Union women’s hockey — and there is a good chance you don’t — you should care about this story. It’s about more than sports, and it casts Union College as a whole in an unfavorable light.
The Dutchwomen finished 2015-16 with a record of 0-28-6, becoming the first Division I women’s hockey team ever to have a winless season. (The last time a men’s team went winless was Alaska-Fairbanks in 1980-81). Union also holds the Division I hockey record for most consecutive games without a win: 51 and counting, dating back to December 2014.
Despite all this, Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin confirmed Saturday night that coach Claudia Asano Barcomb will return next season. Why? Part of it has to do with having one year left on her deal.
“Claudia Asano Barcomb next [season] is going into the final year of a four-year contract,” McLaughlin told The Daily Gazette. “Claudia will be here. She is under contract until the summer of ’17.”
McLaughlin would not reveal the terms of Asano Barcomb’s deal. He said the contract is part of the reason for her return, but added “that’s not the whole story.”
Here is the rest of the story: After nine years in Schenectady, she is 36-236-32 overall (.171 winning percentage). Her teams are 9-169-20 in ECAC Hockey. Her Dutchwomen have never won more than nine games in a season. Asano Barcomb’s winning percentage is by far the worst among active Division I coaches with her experience, and no coach all-time who has coached as many games as her has won anywhere near as few.
“There is no doubt that I, as well as Claudia, are disappointed about this past season,” McLaughlin said.
Well, that’s . . . something.
The fact that this coach has not been replaced before, and is not being bought out and replaced now, is no longer just a hockey issue, no longer just a sports issue. It goes to something much deeper.
Her school bio page is filled with the good works she and her teams have undertaken, which is great. That aspect should be part of the collegiate sports experience.
So should winning, at least at the Division I level. And if Asano Barcomb is not fired after this historically bad season amid a historic winless streak, Union College leaves itself open to prima facie charges that it views women’s sports in a lesser light than men’s.
You can’t create a two-tiered system that leaves the impression the administration cares about men’s sports and doesn’t about women’s. Intent or not, that is the result. Players are left to suffer through careers of losing because the administration won’t be bothered to make a coaching change. Apparently, the issue here is money. That is the impression left. Play your games, girls, while we concentrate on the boys.
Wait: If they don’t fire a female coach, the school is being sexist, you ask? McLaughlin dismisses the notion. He shouldn’t.
If they don’t fire the coach with the worst record in college hockey history (look it up), it sends a message that women’s sports don’t matter, that female athletes don’t matter, that their experience — and, yes, winning is part of that experience — is irrelevant.
Protest all you want, Union College. But answer this question:
Would a coach of a men’s hockey team keep his job with this record?
McLaughlin said he couldn’t answer that question with certainty.
“Possibly, possibly not,” he said Saturday. “We assess a number of things.”
Granted, there is not much he could say given the circumstances, but that answer is laughable/absurd on its surface. Of course a coach of the men’s hockey team would have been axed — in fact, long before his record got this bad.
The same question was posed to college President Stephen Ainlay, who, through a spokesman, stated support for McLaughlin rather than answer directly.
“Coaching personnel and athletic policies are the primary responsibility of the athletic director,” Phil Wajda, director of media and public relations, said in a written response. “President Ainlay has confidence in the decisions being made and supports the goals of the department.”
Through the athletic department, Asano Barcomb declined an interview request.
There are excuses, which McLaughlin has trotted out for years in defense of the coach: There has been incremental progress; ECAC Hockey is one of the best conferences in the country; the talent pool for women’s hockey is shallower than the men’s game; the team has always been a proactive force for good in the community. All well and good.
Then there’s losing. When is enough enough?
Union just “retired” a long-time Division III football coach in John Audino, who had a history of winning before his program fell off a cliff in recent years, capped by a winless 2015. A defensible move, even if his departure could have been handled better than a press release/no comment.
But this is Division I, where the resources allocated are more extensive — as should be the expectations. What are you saying here to the women on campus? To future recruits and their parents? To players on the team? Come here for four years. You won’t win, and we don’t care if you do, but at least you get to skate under the men’s national championship banner.
The sad part is there is talent on this team that just can’t score. (The Dutchwomen did not put up more than two goals in any game this season.) Melissa Black, just a freshman, is one of the best goaltenders in college hockey. With another 50-save game Saturday in a loss to Princeton, she finished with 1,111 for the season, sixth on the all-time NCAA list. That’s one ahead of Shenae Lundberg, who made 1,110 saves for the Dutchwomen last year.
That’s not even Union’s record: Lundy Day made 1,181 saves for Union during the 2008-09 season.
All in this era of epic losing.
Yes, this is a hockey story. But it is much, much more.