Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Commitments Don't Mean Squat

Last week we made mention of the press release announcing the NCAA hockey coverage that is about to start on Rogers Sportsnet. In the release there are comments attributed to Boston University head coach Jack Parker (pictured) which are clearly shots across the bow of the CHL.

TPS pal DJ Powers of Hockey's Future made an interesting contribution to the comments of that blog post, let me take a few sections of that to show what I'm talking about.

"I lost a lot of respect for Unice when he reneged on his NLI to Bowling Green so that he could go play in the OHL. Frankly, I don't care where Unice decides to play, but if he wasn't absolutely sure that he wants to go the NCAA route or had some reservations about honoring the NLI, then he shouldn't have signed and submitted one in the first place. I'd have more respect for him, if he merely gave BGSU a verbal agreement. Verbals are non-binding and are broken (or changed) all the time. I would love to see the NCAA close this NLI loophole because it puts teams in a bind when players reneg on them, especially when it happens near the start of the year, as was the case with Unice."
What DJ's thoughts here made me think of is the growing trend of players who express a desire to play NCAA hockey possibly to alter the outcome of their CHL draft - basically telling teams "hey don't draft me, I'm going to college" and then waiting for the CHL team they're actually wanting to play for to swoop in and select them later than they are rated.

Here's a link to Nathan Fournier's World of Junior Hockey blog that recently had an interesting tidbit on the subject. Some of the stuff that is quoted there is second, third and perhaps even fourth hand information so keep that in mind but if the London knights actually are doing what it says there... that's some dirty pool isn't it?

Speculation is that's basically what happened in the case of Brampton Battalions forward Matt Duchene who had verbally pledged his allegiance to Michigan State. Four players were chosen ahead of Duchene in the 2007 OHL draft including Ryan O'Reilly (Erie), Taylor Hall (Windsor), Casey Cizikas (St. Mike's) and Zack Kassian (Peterborough).

If it's true that Duchene's grand plan was to announce a verbal commitment to the Spartans simply to help ensure that St. Mike's (for example) didn't draft him, well then his plan worked. A month after the OHL draft he informed Michigan State that he was going to renege on his commitment to play for them.

Interesting that in the same draft, Ethan Werek was chosen 9th overall by Kingston and like Duchene, had also committed to the NCAA. What's very interesting to note in this case though is that even after the OHL draft, Werek and his parents were quoted in print saying things like:

“We had a lot of calls,” he said. “Ottawa, Owen Sound, Oshawa and others. We told them all the same thing; that Ethan was going to the NCAA. We’re 100-per-cent committed to Boston University.”

That damning story can be found here.

Did you note which NCAA program Werek had committed to? That would be coach Jack Parker's BU Terriers.

I've been looking but so far haven't been able to determine whether or not Werek had signed anything with BU or if his commitment was still of the verbal variety. If someone knows, perhaps DJ has that info handy, please leave a comment to tell me.

I personally still think the NCAA's opinion that the CHL is a professional league is ridiculous especially when Jr. A leagues like the BCHL and AJHL are not held to those same standards. Players get paid in either Major Junior or Jr. A... they just do. Some get paid beyond their weekly stipend, some get educational kickbacks beyond the schoalrship packages provided by the leagues, and some might just get bonuses or gifts on top of the rest. But it happens in both levels and the NCAA's blind eye policy to Jr. A is ludicrous because of it.

The NCAA could help itself by allowing players who have CHL experience to still retain their NCAA eligibility. MOst collegians don't hit the NCAA until they're 19 anyway... so a 16 or 17-year-old OHL player should be able to try his luck in the CHL and if he finds it's not right for him then he could pursue a NCAA career.

What would be so wrong with that?

(photos courtesy: Boston University and the Ontario Hockey League)


Jeff Hollick said...

1. I think the NCAA considers the WHL a Pro league because there are players in the league who have signed pro contracts. Thus playing against them suggests you are playing against professionals.
2. I too used to think it would be great if 19 and 20 years olds would be allowed to leave the WHL to play in the NCAA but imagine the constant recruting by NCAA teams. Every year WHL teams would have no idea who would be returning to their club. Right now they know if the player plays a game then he is in the league for good.

Guy Flaming said...

Good point Jeff except it's not the older CHL kids that I think should be able to leave but the younger ones if it's clear that their Major junior choice is not working out for them.

What if you capped it so that 18 and under could still retain their NCAA eligibility plus you upped the CHL limit on 20-year-olds to 4 or even 5 to help compensate.

It just seems silly to me that the NCAA expects a 15-year-old to know what and where he wants to be when he's 19.

There has to be some sort of middle ground doesn't there? Maybe it's not MY ideas that are plausible but there has to be something.

Alan Caldwell said...

Technically there is no reason why there can't be players in Jr A who have signed NHL contracts too though. It's not likely that there will be one anytime soon but if it DID happen, would the NCAA then decide that Canadian Jr A is now professional and all its players are off-limits to the NCAA? I doubt it.

There's also lots of players in Jr A who have played in the CHL and are therefore considered pros by the NCAA. So the kids in Jr A are already playing with and against "pros" in the form of ex-CHLers. And the NCAA does allow players to have played exhibition games against CIS teams, which are largely composed of former CHL "pros". Example would be the USHL vs QMJHL exhibitions from two years ago. Those USHL players didn't lose their NCAA eligibility despite having played against QMJHL "pros".

The whole WHL="pro"/Jr A = not pro schtick is just a convenient way for the NCAA to try and preserve some form of pipeline of Canadian players. They know that if they allowed kids to play major junior at 16 or 17 and then go to the NCAA, that they would lose out on almost every single top NHL prospect as those players would almost all choose to stay and finish their careers in junior. The only players going to the NCAA at 18 would be the average CHLers, the late bloomers, and the kids who aren't fixated on hockey as a career and want an education.

I think both junior and NCAA are great options for players but these two leagues have to find a way to get along. It's in the best interests of the players that the leagues be able to peacefully co-exist instead of this stupid tug-of-war over 15 & 16 year olds that we have now.

Anonymous said...

What is ridiculous is the CHL's "need" to bring in 16-year-old players - often 3 per team each year! You can't tell me that most of the 16-year-olds in the CHL wouldn't benefit by playing another year of Midget, both in terms of maturity and education. So why the big hurry to sign and play them so young? So they have no alternative but to play in the CHL? It sure seems that way.

Guy Flaming said...

Well 'Anonymous', if that IS your real name...

The CHL is a league for 16-20 year olds so obviously, there will be 16 year olds playing in it.

Big shocker there.

Guy Flaming said...

The following comment was emailed to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous... and I altered the blog to prevent comments from "anonymous" because 98% of the time they come from people with little to offer outside of grief or profanity.

This person was different so I will post what "H.C." had to say:

“Who said it was a surprise? What I said is that it is not in the best interests of the majority of 16's that they play Junior (either Major Junior or Junior A). Used to be fairly rare that a 16 played in the 'dub. I know of several who have played in the last few years that I speculate would have developed as well, if not better, playing another year of Midget.

You whine about the NCAA rules not letting a 15 or 16 year old kid try playing in the CHL before making a decision about their future. Why is there such pressure from the CHL teams to sign at such a young age? Why shouldn't the CHL wait until kids are more mature and have a better understanding of what they might like to gain from hockey? What is the CHL afraid of?

As I recall, it was the CHL that "forced" Hockey Canada to remove the rule it was intending to implement a few years ago that would have eliminated most 16 year olds from playing Junior. The rule that would have essentially made the Junior leagues for kids from 17 to 20; not 16 to 20. Remember that? That rule would have helped far more kids that it would have hindered, IMO."

Some good stuff there to consider!

DJ Powers said...


You followed up a post of mine on the TPS blog with your posting called "When NCAA Commitments mean squat". I read the entry as well as all of the comments.

First off, Ethan Werek (sp?) never submitted an NLI to BU, so it was a verbal commitment.

Second, the issue is a lot more complicated than most people think. Many Canadians, especially those who aren't familiar with how the NCAA recruiting process works, tends to simplify the issue and in turn do not fully understand the entire scope of the problem. So I'll try and explain it to you as briefly as I possibly can.

The biggest issues here from the NCAA's perspective are:

1) The NCAA rule regarding not allowing coaches to talk to potential recruits BEFORE the summer following their sophomore year in high school. This puts them at a huge disadvantage to the CHL because the CHL teams can talk to these same players before then. I wrote about this in the story that I did for Future Considerations last year that focused on the number of collegians leaving the NCAA ranks for the CHL.

2) The developmental leagues with HS-aged kids, especially those who play for some of the nation's top Midget (AAA) Major programs, that are experiencing continually rising losses to the CHL BEFORE the kids have an opportunity to explore the college (NCAA) option.

Since you're probably familiar with reason #1, I'll focus on reason #2 here.

Since coming on board with Hockey's Future many moons ago, I've had the opportunity to speak with coaches at virtually every level of developmental hockey here in the US that is below the collegiate level. I've spoken with coaches from the NTDP, the USHL, the NAHL, the New England preps, the MN HS Class A/AA league (which I'm doing more coverage of this year for HF), and the Midget (AAA) Majors.

While every coach that I've spoken with in all of the aforementioned leagues have varying opinions on a player's development, one common theme that I've heard over and over from virtually all of them is the pressure that these kids are put under to make crucial decisions that could effect their futures, not only in hockey but also in life after hockey, at such a young age.

When I did the 2-part HF story on the growth of youth hockey here in California back in November called "California: the Golden State of Hockey", several of the Midget Major coaches that I spoke with for the story expressed great concern about the kids (and I'll use their words here) "being forced to make critical hockey decisions at such a young age".

Often times, these kids do not get the opportunity to even explore the NCAA option BEFORE being approached by the WHL because they (WHL) want
decisions as quickly as possible. And according to these coaches, the kids barely have enough time to speak with their parents about all of the options that are available to them before the WHL comes calling again. But even more alarming to these coaches is the fact that not only does the WHL want quick commitments, they also want these kids out of Midget Major as quickly as possible too, regardless if they are ready for the WHL or not. These coaches feel that the WHL are trying to rush these kids' development and are not looking at the potential long-term/down-the-road consequences in doing so. Furthermore, these coaches also feel that these kids would be better served spending an
extra year in Midget Major to get more and/or quality ice time, rather than seeing spot duty in the WHL, as was the case with Everett's Tyler Parker when he first arrived in the Dub at 16.

One selling point that the WHL has utilized in their recruiting efforts that has proven to be successful for them in recent years is the educational package that they offer, which is quite attractive, but also not without some strings attached. While many of the NCAA media do not understand (nor care to in some cases) how the CHL educational packages work, I actually wanted to be and was educated (no pun intended) on it from my direct talks with WHL personnel. I think what people on BOTH sides of the issue here have to
understand is that what the WHL (and I would assume this also applies to the other CHL leagues as well) has to offer as far as educational package is concerned is NOT the same as what the NCAA offers. Both have their pluses and minuses.

Now taking this a step further and in reply to something that you mentioned in giving the CHL a try and then opt for the NCAA route if
it doesn't work out and if it were possible, I would be in total agreement with you except that as I mentioned before, many of these kids aren't even given sufficient time to explore all of their options
first. Why not allow the player and his family explore ALL of their options BEFORE coming to a decision? I'm not saying that this will be the case with all players. Some players, such as Rhett Rakshani of the University of Denver never had any intention of ever going the CHL route to begin
with. Conversely, a player like Jonathon Blum briefly thought about going the NCAA route but was pretty much set on going to the Dub anyway. And from my one-on-one discussions with both of them, I can honestly say that both are very, very happy with the decisions that they made.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, I don't really care which route a player takes as long as he and his family are happy with the decision that they and THEY ALONE made, and are willing to live with. I personally do not feel that players should be pressured to fit into some sort of quick time line for their decisions. This is a decision that will have a tremendous effect on their lives and IMO the decision to take either route shouldn't be made hastily.

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