NORTH ANDOVER — An alcohol-related incident involving the Merrimack College baseball team last Friday on campus has forced school administrators to cancel the team's annual trip to Florida next month, one of the highlights of its season.
That could be the least of the program's problems.
According to a school official, the college should complete its investigation today of an incident in a dorm room of team members and apparently hasn't ruled out hazing.
"Members of the Merrimack College baseball team were found to have violated the Merrimack College student-athlete code of conduct," said school spokeswoman, Kathleen Franzese. "I do want to stress there was no physical harm to anyone involved resulting from the activities. ... But I can't answer any questions about hazing because we are still investigating."
Franzese said the cancellation of the games in Florida came after an initial investigation by the athletics department, which also is forcing all of the baseball team members to complete 20 hours of community service.
Athletic Director Glenn Hofmann and baseball coach Joe Sarno directed all inquiries to Franzese.
Former Andover High School players PJ Farnham, a sophomore, and Matt Hogan, a senior, are among four area players listed on the roster, which also includes freshman Brian Wolfendale, a Central Catholic graduate from Methuen, and junior Chris Caron of Londonderry, N.H.
The team was to play seven games over five days in West Palm Beach, Fla., from March 6 through 10. Wilmington College, Concordia College, Bloomfield University, Felician College and C.W. Post were the teams scheduled on the "spring break" trip.
According to Franzese, the school's student conduct system is now running the investigation.
Merrimack's student-athlete handbook has an extensive definition of hazing. Here are a few passages from that section:
"Merrimack College Athletics unequivocally opposes any situation created intentionally to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.
"Any requirement or pressure put on an individual to participate in any activity which is illegal, perverse, publicly indecent, contrary to his/her genuine morals and/or beliefs, e.g., public profanity, indecent or lewd conduct, or sexual gestures in public.
"Required eating of anything an individual would refuse to eat otherwise."
There is one hazing reference to alcohol: "Forcing, requiring, or pressuring an individual to consume alcohol or any other substance."
Franzese said that all Merrimack student-athletes must sign the handbook acknowledging that they have read the 43-page booklet and agree to abide by the rules, regulations and school principles.
Merrimack College was picked to finish 13th out of 14 teams in the Northeast-10 Conference. The baseball team's record the last three seasons has improved slightly from 16-26 in 2007 to 18-27 in 2008 and 20-27 in 2009 under Sarno.
Today, though, wins and losses don't matter. "We take this very seriously," said Franzese. "The code of conduct applies to everyone at the school, not just athletes."