Cronin rejoins Huskies

Suspended NU coach returns for playoffs

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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“The Sheriff is back.’’

That’s what Northeastern coach Greg Cronin jokingly told his team yesterday afternoon when it was announced that he and assistant coach Albie O’Connell had been reinstated after a six-game suspension for NCAA recruiting violations.

Cronin, O’Connell, and Sebastien Laplante, who led the team in Cronin’s absence, will be behind the bench Thursday night when the Huskies face Boston University in the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals.

As much as Cronin tried to show a little levity with his players, he was far from being flippant. It was clear the gravity of the banishment and potential future repercussions weighed on him.

“I’m thrilled to be back and I know Albie is, too,’’ said Cronin, who seemed relieved and reflective yesterday when he met with the media. “Like I always tell the players, ‘If you do things the right way every day, you’ll have success down the road.’ We made mistakes. You can’t really put any conditions on it. They were mistakes. I think the school did what they felt they had to do. I was really impressed with the school and [athletic director Peter Roby] and his compliance staff with being professional about the process and being extremely quiet and thorough. To their credit, they did a thorough job and we just had to be patient. That’s the worst part about it, waiting to find out what your penalty is.’’

Roby announced the suspensions Feb. 18, after routine compliance monitoring turned up the violations. Roby said he felt it was necessary to send a clear message that NCAA rules violations won’t be tolerated.

“We want to put this incident behind us to the extent that we can without losing sight of the issues at hand,’’ said Roby. “What we came to understand is that we were using a communication tool in texting that’s no longer allowed by the NCAA. Until such time as your prospective student-athlete signs a national letter of intent and then once they’re considered to have signed the national level of intent, there are no more restrictions on the type of communication or the number that you can engage in. It was a combination of texting, which is not allowed, or phone calls that were either above the limit or that were too many in number or it came before the dates that were allowed by the NCAA.’’

Laplante will face a suspension at the start of the 2011-12 campaign because Roby said he wanted to be consistent.

“The staff needs to take responsibility because the violations were involving everyone on the staff,’’ said Roby. “At the time that we made the choice to suspend Greg and Albie, there were two things that factored into it. One was that, based on the information that we had at the time, Sebastien didn’t seem to be as overly involved as the other two, and secondly, we needed some continuity and leadership. We felt like given the first situation, that it was appropriate that we have someone on the staff to maintain the continuity and leadership and to protect the welfare of the students. We tried to make a good thing out of a bad situation and do the best that we could on behalf of the players and I think we’ve accomplished that.’’

The fact that the men’s basketball program is already on NCAA probation convinced Roby to take a hard line with hockey. It’s possible the NCAA could add recruiting restrictions and/or loss of scholarships.

“The advice that we’ve gotten from our all-sports conference is that . . . if there were inadvertent small numbers of these kinds of things that they wouldn’t rise to the level of a major violation but when you start to add them up, as we have in this case, it’s hard to rationalize or expect it to be seen as a minor violation,’’ said Roby.

“We’re proceeding with the expectation and the understanding that it will potentially rise to a major-violation status. As a result, the self-imposed sanctions that we will need to implement and recommend to the NCAA will be reflective of that expectation that it is considered more major than minor.’’

Roby said over the next couple of weeks, the school will put together its findings and send them to the NCAA, along with self-imposed sanctions. The NCAA infractions committee will determine any additional penalties.

Cronin and his staff are expected to retain their positions after this season.

“We don’t anticipate anybody losing their job over this,’’ said Roby. “That’s one of the reasons why we felt the timing was appropriate and that there was enough accountability on their part with respect to them having been suspended for six games that we could end the suspension now and reinstate them.’’