09/20/2012 09:18 EDT | Updated 11/20/2012 05:12 EST

Laurier bans baseball team four games for hazing, says ban could be extended

The Wilfrid Laurier baseball team will make a final pitch Sunday to save its season after being suspended by the school following a hazing incident.

The varsity men's squad was suspended for a minimum four games Thursday after the entire team participated in the incident, which violated the school's student-athlete code of conduct.

"This isn't a minor thing like having the rookie carry a bags to the bus-type thing," said Peter Baxter, the school's athletic director. "Alcohol was involved and there were other issues of de-humanizing, degrading behaviour.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy that is supported by our board of governors and president.''

Baxter wouldn't give any specifics on the incident but said no one was injured. Rather than impose a season-long suspension immediately, the school wants to first give players the chance to make a case for allowing them to resume playing this year.

"Sport can be a very powerful platform to educate for the positive, not just the negative and this is what we're asking our athletes to do for themselves," Baxter said. "What I'm saying to them is this is your opportunity to step forward and make effective change long-term because I know me just whacking them on suspension isn't going to change the culture, it will make them more resentful.

"They all think it (hazing) is going to be a bonding experience but there are other ways you can do that nowadays in a positive way.''

Hazing has been a problem at other schools in the past.

In December 2010, the men's volleyball squad at St. Thomas University in Fredericton was suspended following the death of a rookie who participated in a hazing event at a team party. A police report concluded 21-year-old Andrew Bartlett had been drinking and later fell down some stairs at his apartment building and hit his head.

In October 2005, McGill University cancelled the remainder of its men's football season due to a hazing incident that involved nudity and degrading behaviour.

The Laurier team will meet Sunday with Baxter and Wally Gabler Jr., co-ordinator of interuniversity sport. Baxter and Gabler Jr. will then gather with the school officials and a decision will be made whether to allow the team to resume playing or extend the suspension through to the end of the 2012 season.

The Golden Hawks are 4-4 this season and fourth in the eight-team OUA standings with 12 games remaining. But Laurier will forfeit weekend doubleheaders against Western and Waterloo as part of the suspension.

Baxter said the hazing incident occurred without the knowledge of manager Scott Ballantyne, who has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

What makes the incident disheartening for school officials, Baxter said, is earlier this year they met with the entire squad and read the code-of-conduct policy to the players. Baxter said team members also received an NCAA education package on how student-athletes can educate people on hazing.

"Hazing is a part of the sport culture that has to be eradicated,'' Baxter said. "But I think the mentality of a lot of people is they feel they can do it underground and not get caught, it's only fun, people are willingly participating and its freedom of choice.

But student-athletes are held to a higher standard than a regular student, said Baxter.

"It's a privilege to play, not a right," he said. "That privilege is given to them on the basis that part of the infrastructure that supports the baseball program . . . is paid for by student fees so they can't just do what they want. It's our job to educate them on what those responsibilities are."