On March 4, 1961, the Harvard varsity ice hockey team—the year’s Ivy League champions—sat in a silent locker room, bewildered by the 1-1 “upset tie” Yale had just handed them to end the season.
But the greatest disappointment was not a result of the team’s play on the ice.
Despite the squad’s posting an 18-4-2 record, the Faculty Committee on Athletics banned the team from taking part in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. And once again the committee gave no official explanation for its actions.
Some speculated that it was caused by the losses against Boston College days before the prohibition was re-affirmed. And in a telegram message to the hockey team, then Associate Dean of the College and member of the committee Robert B. Watson ’37 bid the team to “prove you are of NCAA calibre.”
But in an unofficial capacity, school officials told the hockey team that the ban was a protest against the “professionalism in spirit” the committee saw in its opponents, particularly the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
In response to the decision, the hockey team formed a special “fact-finding committee” under the Undergraduate Athletics Council to protest against the ban, according to hockey player David G. Morse ’62.
According to an anonymous committee member from a past Crimson interview, however, the faculty felt that it could make more progress on the situation without making its objections public or official.
BEHIND THE BAN
The problem, according to Morse, could be traced to the University of Denver—a member of the WCHA—where the school admitted heavily subsidized semi-professional athletes, many of whom were not full-time students. The NCAA determined that the University of Denver violated recruiting policies, and Harvard took a stance against its opponent’s admission strategy by banning the Crimson team from playing.
“If you look at the roster [of some WCHA teams], they did not have any American players,” says hockey team manager G. Neal Ryland ’63. “It was too much professionalism.”
But for the hockey team members who were motivated to play in the national spotlight, the decision came as a blow.
“I was opposed to it [and] it was a big deal,” says Benjamin B. Baker ’62, a team manager.
“They were tough teams to beat, but why should we shy away from teams that are hard to beat?” Baker adds, citing several instances where Harvard had defeated teams in the Western league.
This faculty’s decision, which Morse called “not very substantiated,” set off a long period of negotiation between the hockey team and administration.
“NCAA was being too judgmental [on the University of Denver],” Morse says, but “our complaints were more towards the University instead of NCAA. Our battle began with Harvard before anyone else.”