Bancroft Is Subject of Internal Investigation
Rick Bancroft, Michigan’s director of hockey operations, has retired, effective Monday, the school said. No reason was given for the retirement.
Bancroft has been a subject of the ongoing investigation of Michigan’s hockey program, currently being conducted by Washington D.C.-based law firm WilmerHale. Bancroft was named in the investigation in an October 2021 letter from WilmerHale to the person who filed the complaint with the University.
According to the allegations, Bancroft was part a “toxic and discriminatory environment for female staff.” It’s also alleged that Bancroft, who began working at the school as an athletic trainer in 1991, knew about the long-time sexual misconduct of late athletic trainer Robert Anderson. Anderson was the subject a previous investigation that resulted in the school settling with victims for over $40 million.
Michigan head coach Mel Pearson was also named in the investigation as being part of the toxic work environment. It’s also alleged that Pearson instructed players to lie on contact tracing forms when arriving at the 2021 NCAA Tournament in Fargo, N.D. Michigan was subsequently forced to withdraw from the tournament because of the team’s widespread exposure to COVID.
It’s also alleged that Pearson retaliated against at least one player for raising concerns about the team’s culture.
Pearson’s contract expired as of May 1, though he continues to work as the team’s coach despite not yet signing a new contract.
Recently, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told the Ann Arbor News that the school is talking with Pearson about a new contract, but there’s nothing to report at this time. “We have worked through a process within the university,” Manuel told the Ann Arbor News. “As it comes out, and we talk about it at the appropriate time, we’ll talk about whether something’s complete or not complete. But we have a lot of information that we need to make the decisions we need to make.”
Numerous media outlets have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the university, attempting to gather the results of the investigation and/or any email exchanges between Bancroft and school administrators since October 2021. Those requests have been repeatedly denied or ignored.
According to multiple sources, Manuel asked Pearson to resign in February as the investigation heated up, though the exact reason for making that request has not been confirmed. Pearson obviously declined to resign, and went on to lead Michigan to the Frozen Four, where it lost in the NCAA semifinal to Denver.
Pearson has declined to comment.
Manuel has offered no timeline for the resolution of the situation with Pearson. “He’s working and continuing to be our hockey coach,” Manuel told the News. “There’s no difference in my mind in what we’re doing. We’re just working through a process and looking at the things that we need to address and we’ll move forward.”
Bancroft became Michigan’s director of hockey operations in 2018, after Pearson’s first season as head coach.
Bancroft’s departure may pave the way for Michigan to wrap up the investigation, retain Pearson, and keep the results sealed. According to University policy, a formal complaint may be dismissed if the respondent (Bancroft) is no longer employed by the University.