On Feb. 22, Ottawa Senator Chris Neil blindsided the vulnerable Buffalo Sabre Chris Drury, causing the latter to leave the National Hockey League game with concussion-like symptoms.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and league Vice President Colin Campbell hemmed and hawed for a day. Finally, Campbell decided to fine Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff because he sent out his enforcer line after Neil made the hit, failing to address the cheap shot that caused the fight. For a duo that has presided over the NHL’s precipitous downfall, I really didn’t expect anything better.

Enter B. Thomas Golisano. Known throughout Western New York as a pivotal community member, he started a billion-dollar company in our own backyard and has donated millions to area schools and hospitals. A few years ago, his dedication to the community and business sense came together when he purchased the Sabres – a bankrupt team with ostensibly no future – and turned it into a profitable, widely admired franchise within only a few years.

A few days ago, he drafted a letter to the commissioner that clearly stated, in common sense terms, that there is nothing manly about a cheap shot to the head from behind. Needless to say, it wouldn’t hurt NHL officials to take advice from someone with a sound business model and little common sense.

Many, including NHL management, maintain the hit was clean. What’s even worse is that many sports writers accuse Golisano of whining to the league, of being na’ve toward the game of hockey. Sadly, it doesn’t surprise me that these officials and so-called hockey fans side with a dim-witted, emotionally-imbalanced thug like Chris Neil against a self-made billionaire philanthropist. Golisano hardly takes a na’ve approach in his letter, admitting that injury-causing hits to the head are a part of the game, a fact that Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir and his ilk conveniently ignore. Golisano should not worry too much about Muir’s comments – it’s hard to take the columnist seriously when he styles as a proponent of old-school, hard-nosed hockey. When Philadelphia’s “Broad Street Bullies” ushered in the peak of physical hockey play in the 1970s, Muir was barely out of diapers. A little common sense, which is what the game of hockey needs right now, is apparently too much for him and NHL officials.

While Golisano’s detractors’ sole investment in the game of hockey is watching Hockey Night in Canada with a two-four of Molson, Golisano has a little bit more – to the tune of millions more – on the line. Therefore, while Muir and similarly-minded cretins take perverse pleasure in watching players get blindsided in the name of fast-paced entertainment, Golisano has a product to sell. He realizes that this product won’t be bought if players are injured on a regular basis by cheap hits from behind.

What Golisano’s letter came down to, though, was respect. Thanks to the NHL management, respect for the game of hockey has evaporated in the past few years. The entire 2004-2005 season was cancelled due to a lockout. Instead of renegotiating a contract with ESPN, the management is content with showing the majority of their league’s season on a second-rate cable channel that isn’t even widely distributed.

Despite all of this bad press, Golisano has been able to market his team – and, for that matter, the entire league – in Western New York; out of all American NHL markets, the Stanley Cup Finals and the All-Star Game have recently had their highest ratings in Buffalo.

Once again, hockey’s management is at a crossroads.

The right decision is to endorse Golisano’s advice – advice of a man whose sound decision-making turned a bankrupt laughingstock into a profitable, world-class organization, the advice of a man who has improved the lives of millions of Western New Yorkers with his philanthropy.

All it takes is a little common sense and respect for the game.

Scott of a member of the class of 2008.

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