Wed Oct 27 12:26am EDT
The last couple of years haven't been a good time to be a Morencie affiliated with the University of Windsor. Under head coach Mike Morencie, the football Lancers went 2-6 this year. That dropped his overall record at Windsor to 34-68-1. Even though the school's founding dean of human kinetics doesn't care about the scoreboard, Morencie and his expiring contract appear set to leave after this season (even though he almost tried to have the school's faculty association challenge that via grievance).
Meanwhile, Mike's son Matt had a solid CIS career with the Lancers at centre and guard (and even slotback on occasion), but slid from a projected third overall to 21st in the 2009 CFL draft. He was released a few months later by the Lions heading into the regular season and went back to Windsor for last year's CIS campaign, then signed a free-agent deal with Hamilton after that season ended. He even won the J.P. Metras Trophy (he's pictured with it at right) as the outstanding CIS lineman and earned an appearance in the famed American East-West Shrine Game. This year, he's managed to stick around on Hamilton's practice roster, but it's his off-field actions that are getting him in trouble.
The Windsor Star came out with a disturbing story Tuesday evening, alleging that Morencie went up to Star columnist Bob Duff on the sidelines after Saturday's game, grabbed his notebook and tried to walk off. Duff reportedly asked for the notebook back twice, prompting Morencie to tear several pages out and throw them and the book into the air. According to A-Channel cameraman Bob Bellacicco, who witnessed the event, Morencie launched verbal expletives at Duff before the apparently unprovoked incident started.
Athlete-media feuds do happen from time to time, but this one's reasonably unusual. Duff has written critically about the program before, but it's not like the notebook-stealing came because Morencie was unhappy with the way an interview went. Duff hadn't talked to him that day, and the ripped-out notes weren't even on Windsor (but rather a local high school product playing with Boise State). Morencie's allowed to complain about Duff's pieces on his father (pictured below talking to the team during a 2006 practice) and the state of the Windsor program, but this isn't the way to do it. It's obvious that this kind of harassment of working media can't be permitted.
According to the Star's story, university athletics director (and Ontario University Athletics president) Gord Grace has started an investigation into the incident, but they don't have many disciplinary options as Morencie is no longer a Windsor student. They could ban him from attending future games or from campus altogether, but that wouldn't necessarily solve anything. In the wake of last week's player-fan brawl at a junior football game in Hamilton, this investigation might provide the impetus for Windsor and other OUA schools to look at their stadium security policies, though. In most cases, the mixing of fans, players and media on the sidelines after a game isn't too likely to cause problems, but there are some situations like this one where it could.
The real question is if there will be any action taken against Morencie by the Tiger-Cats or the CFL. This wasn't a CFL game, but that doesn't mean that Morencie can't face consequences for his actions. Although the league's off-field discipline tends not to be as heavy-handed as the NFL's, CFL teams have previously punished off-field behaviour in cases like that of Josh Boden (who the Lions released after he was charged criminally in a domestic incident). Boden went on to a stint with Hamilton, but was released again shortly and charged with sexual assault multiple times.
It's not worth blowing the Morencie case out of proportion, though, as it is just a few potentially-damaged sheets of notes in the end. It's clearly not on the level of the Boden issue or some of the other troubling CFL situations over the years, such as the Trevis Smith case. That doesn't mean it should be ignored by the Blue Bombers or the CFL, though; at the very least, Duff deserves a public apology. Hamilton director of communications Shawn Burke told the Star that the organization is dealing with it internally, and that's probably good enough for now; Morencie's only on the practice roster, so a suspension wouldn't really do anything. They might choose to levy a fine against him or they might even choose to release him. Whatever they do, they need to make it clear to Morencie that he can't continue this kind of behaviour. It's just the latest embarrassing moment for the Morencies, but it's the worst one so far.
Update, Oct. 28: Mark Masters reports that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have claimed Morencie off Hamilton's practice squad. That could have interesting implications for this case, as they'd have to put him on the active roster to do so (and that means a suspension could potentially be in play). It's also not every day you see a team claim a player in the middle of a controversy.
Update, Oct. 29: According to CFL director of communications Jamie Dykstra, this is an issue that could fall under the league's jurisdiction, but they're choosing to leave it to the teams involved. Dykstra told me via e-mail that from the league's perspective, the Tiger-Cats handled the situation:
"We were made aware of this situation after it happened. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are handling the issue internally. The Commissioner does have the authority to impose discipline for acts off the field. But in this case, it is being handled internally by the Tiger-Cats."
That's probably a reasonable response. We don't know exactly how Hamilton handled the matter, but I'd venture they made it pretty clear to Morencie that the CFL isn't going to tolerate that kind of behaviour. Head coach Marcel Bellefeuille's comments to Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator would certainly seem to indicate that:
"'It's important to represent our organization positively at everyopportunity that we can. I just reiterated the point to him,' Bellefeuille said. 'I think he took it to heart, he understands thesituation and I'm sure if he had to do it again it probably wouldn'thave happened the way it did.'"
It would be nice if they'd had him apologize publicly as well, but perhaps the thinking there was just to let the story die. Although Hamilton officials told Edwards the decision to let Morencie go to Winnipeg (they could have stopped that by adding him to their own active roster) wasn't related to this incident, Greg Layson figures they might have been more eager to keep him if it wasn't for this. We'll never know if that was a factor or not, but Morencie's off-field actions certainly didn't make him more appealing to the team.
Again, this isn't a huge deal, especially compared to some of the other off-field incidents the CFL has seen over the years. It's just an interesting series of events, and it has illuminated the league's off-field discipline procedures a bit. Perhaps the takeaway for Morencie and other players is not to pick fights with those who buy ink by the barrel. If he's that eager to respond to criticism, maybe he should follow the example of new teammate Doug Brown and start buying his own ink in bulk.