Former University of Maine hockey player Matt Oliver withdrew from the school Monday, citing a concern with hostile relations between athletes and disappointment with how UMaine handled its investigation into his alleged involvement in a threatening phone call.
Dan Pileggi, Oliver’s lawyer, said the junior winger denied involvement in a Dec. 14 telephone call containing racial slurs and threats made to football player Dwayne Wilmot. Oliver, 23, decided to attend a university near his home in Ohio to pursue his degree in a better student environment, Pileggi said.
On Friday, former UMaine goalie Bryan Masotta received a $1,000 fine after pleading no contest to charges of criminal threatening for his involvement in the phone message.
The Penobscot District Attorney had previously dropped criminal threatening charges against Oliver and hockey teammate Shawn Mansoff.
Mansoff has been suspended indefinitely from the team by hockey coach Shawn Walsh. He has been suspended for a year by the university, but is currently attending classes because he has appealed the school suspension to the university’s Conduct Committee.
Oliver could not be reached for comment, but a press release from Pileggi stated that at UMaine, “as the university is aware, there have been incidents during the past year in which physical violence occurred, and various threats were made, in an environment of escalating hostility between members of the two programs.”
University spokesman Joe Carr said that in the four years in his current position, it is the first time a hostile incident involving a hockey player and football player occurred, and he talks with campus police a few times a week.
UMaine athletic director Sue Tyler said that, after the phone message was reported, she met with both the hockey and football teams and asked if any other incidents had occurred in the past two years and was told none had.
“I haven’t heard of anything. Sean Frazier reports to me and he hasn’t heard anything between the teams – these two or any other two,” Tyler said of Frazier, UMaine’s assistant to the director of athletics for equal opportunity.
Walsh said in his 14 years as coach at Maine, there have been altercations between players of the two programs – some that may have involved the police – but Walsh said that is to be expected at a university.
“Over the course of any career, and I’ve been here 14 years, you always have odd disagreements,” Walsh said. “There were a couple of things [that happened over the last year] that came out because of this incident, but my understanding is that they were totally individual incidents and I think this press release is an attempt to deflect the actions of an individual.”
He added, “I would say Matt Oliver needs to worry about Matt Oliver.”
Clashes between students of different groups at universities is not unique.
In October, half of the Rhode Island football team raided a Theta Delta Chi fraternity, sending three fraternity members to the hospital with cuts and bruises. The raid was apparently in retaliation for a football player being ejected from a fraternity party a few days earlier.
But Pileggi said the investigation the university conducted after the threatening phone call uncovered a history of friction between the football and hockey teams and that needs to be addressed.
“There has been a history spanning not only this past school year, but going back a year that involves hostility between the two programs,” Pileggi said. “I don’t know if the university is considering that. Our contention is that they should.”
Another problem Pileggi and Oliver had with UMaine was the hurried manner in which the university implicated Oliver.
“He feels that the university went forward with the investigation and publicly implicated him when it did not have enough evidence to justify the charge,” Pileggi said. “We both feel the university should have conducted a more thorough investigation before going to the press and moving forward with any kind of action.”
Carr said the university police followed the same procedure that they do in every case, but, because of the publicity the case was getting, people in the university community and the public needed to be made aware of the situation.
“We felt it was important for President Hoff to reiterate his feelings that the university has a zero tolerance policy for threats of violence,” Carr said. “Logically, people would have wanted to know who did it. Because the people arrested were in the record in the university police, there was no choice but to answer that question.”
UMaine football coach Jack Cosgrove could not be reached for comment.