Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Time is Now

For a few weeks, we've watched and we've waited while the dominoes fell, waiting to see what would happen. For a while, anything that would have affected the Engineers was tertiary to the ongoing discussions. Then they became secondary, waiting to see what Notre Dame was going to do.

It's now front and center. If there are more dominoes to fall, it will almost certainly be for a 12th Hockey East program - and of course, RPI has been prominently mentioned in those discussions.

Back in July, we cautiously endorsed the idea of RPI taking a good hard look at Hockey East accession. Given all of the evidence that we've seen, we're confident that they have.

We're now taking it a step further. Without a Peer now endorses the concept itself.

We cherish the 50 years of history that the Engineers have put together in the ECAC, and the close connections we have with every other member of the conference, including the Ivy League. There is so much that will be difficult and even painful to walk away from.

But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sure, RPI and Hockey East have done the dance twice before, but if this chance slips by, there won't be another one.

During the Bob Ducatte years, Hockey East became a possibility twice. Both times, the coach was interested. Both times, the administration shot it down. Under Daniel Berg's guidance following the untimely death of President George Low, RPI was invited to be among the founding members of the conference. Mike Addesa was more than interested. We said no. With Byron Pipes at the helm, RPI was again part of the discussion to expand Hockey East. Buddy Powers was keen on the idea. We said no.

15 years later, the demeanor, we hope, has changed significantly. Athletic Director Jim Knowlton, from his own words, is driven to take this program to the apex of college hockey with a third national title. He has the right coach to get him there with the charismatic and talented Seth Appert. Where Hockey East was denied before, the atmosphere is ripe to finally make the move.

Knowlton and Appert were both hired under the present administration of Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson. Say what you want about Dr. Jackson, there is no denying that athletics as a whole has fared very well under her guidance. She fought for the Institute's hockey scholarships when they were threatened in 2003. She helped get the cogs moving for the construction of ECAV and the renovation of the Field House.

I believe she will be open to the idea. But the time to start moving is now. In the past few weeks, we have heard a few dodges from some of the main players when asked about the possibility, if only because the final dominoes had not yet fallen and if the door were to remain closed to us, it would not make sense to have burned bridges.

Supporters now, however, can move forward without that fear. Let your voice be heard.

My open letter to Dr. Jackson and the officers of the Board of Trustees:

To:
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Hon. Arthur J. Gajarsa '62
Adm. R. J. Zlatoper '63 USN (Ret.)
Paula L. Simon '68

As an alumnus, I am very proud of the advancements that have been made at Rensselaer between the moment I stepped foot on campus in August 2000 and the present day. A true transformation has taken place at RPI, from the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies to EMPAC and the East Campus Athletic Village. As the years have progressed, the pride I felt when I first associated myself with the Institute has only grown.

Since the establishment of the Rensselaer Plan, the Institute has become a shining beacon for Troy, the Capital District, and all of New York State. I firmly believe that the goals laid out in the plan have set our school up for success in every facet of its being, from research to instruction and yes, even athletics.

We are blessed as a school to be renowned throughout the country not only for our outstanding research facilities and top notch educational opportunities, but also for our historic hockey program as well - to wit, I have been told that there are two things RPI is known for: its engineers and its hockey.

When I was a student, I vividly recall attending a lecture at Russell Sage Laboratory by one of our school's greatest alums, Dr. Myles Brand '64, then President of the NCAA. To this day I remember Dr. Brand's commentary on the role of interscholastic athletics as an integral part of the educational experience, harkening back to the Athenian model of education in which development of the body was considered as important as development of the mind.

Under the guidance of athletic director Jim Knowlton and coach Seth Appert, the men's hockey program has been very much a part of the "Renaissance at Rensselaer." Having met both of these men, I find them to be as driven for success as anyone I have ever had the pleasure to know. Both of them wish to add to the RPI legacy with another national championship.

As stated in the Rensselaer Plan, "three fundamental markers will drive our actions: excellence, leadership, and community." I believe our hockey program has a golden opportunity to increase its influence in all three of these markers: accession to the Hockey East Association.

Hockey East is already one of the most competitive and most recognized hockey conferences in the nation, filled with elite programs who draw some of the most elite players to their ranks. Mr. Appert and Mr. Knowlton already do a superb job of bringing to campus men that not only excel on the ice, but in the classroom. I am confident that, in Hockey East, we will not only continue that trend, we will find student-athletes who excel even further in both arenas.

It has been said that in the modern era of college hockey, a smaller school like Rensselaer which maintains rigid academic requirements for its athletes does not have a shot at competing with larger public schools for championships, especially the national championship. But that has never been our way at RPI. We do not accept that some goals are impossible. In our research labs, we constantly find new ways to accomplish tasks. The same can certainly hold true on the ice.

I ask you to please consider the opportunity that is likely to come before us, and join our program with Hockey East.

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