Mon Aug 08 11:33am EDT
Major junior hockey is a business regardless of what some would like to believe. Over the weekend, Paul Kelly of College Hockey, Inc., offered his first response to what's been called Black July for the NCAA, when NHL first-round choices Jamie Oleksiak, J.T. Miller and Connor Murphy and second-round goalie John Gibson each changed course from playing collegiately to play in the Ontario Hockey League.
It was a body blow for the NCAA. As greater minds than I have politely pointed out, it's going to keep happening so long as it maintains its outdated rules. The onus is on those in Overland Park, Kansas, where the NCAA is headquartered, to adapt and realize they can't build a firewall around any player who commits to a school (even though there's misgivings if someone was just using it as leverage). Or allow someone to sign his entry-level NHL deal and stay in school, as many collegians no doubt would have were it permitted. (Did Jerry D'Amigo really intend to finish last season in Kitchener?) Perhaps people also need to stop throwing around terms such as "sudden defections," too. Instead of acknowledging that, Kelly put the blame squarely on Canadian Hockey League teams for having the audacity to — scandal! — perhaps compensate them for their labour. From Fluto Shinzawa:
There isn't an overriding reason why future collegians are opting out of the classroom. It could be academics. It might be heat from NHL personnel who believe junior is the preferred route over college. Money could also be a factor.
"As much as the CHL denies it, there are still instances where money is being paid to the family to lure kids away and de-commit from colleges," Kelly said. "It's off the books, under the table, whatever you want to call it. If your dad is a fisherman, an out-of-work machinist, or a farmer, and a CHL program comes along and offers you $300,000 in cash, it's tough for these families not to accept that type of proposal."
One solution might be a first-year grace period. For example, a collegian would be off limits from NHL or CHL contact for his freshman year. If he believes that college isn't for him after one year, then he'd be free to consider other options. (Boston Globe)
This will come off as naïve and disingenuous, but if that's what happens, so what? Until such time that the IRS or Canada Revenue Agency start taking down hockey dads for tax evasion, one's inclined to believe that's fair play. It's not dirty pool to pay a budding professional. That's a lot more honest than, not to digress, the NCAA commercializing college football and basketball "for everyone except the people who play it," to borrow a line from Michael Lewis.
No doubt this has been said before on BTN, but the endless blame game doesn't really serve College Hockey, Inc.'s cause. That's not meant to let anyone in junior hockey off the hook, but let's be realistic and admit recruiting is cutthroat. My understanding of Kelly's organization, though, is that its main aims are to advise NCAA Division I schools interested in icing a hockey program and promote college hockey as a viable option for potential recruits. Both are worth fighting for; more major colleges competing in hockey would increase opportunities for both male and female players. As far as talking up the NCAA to young players, some in the CHL do not like the incursions on to their turf, but younger players and their families should have all the information before choosing which track. A 15-year-old who grows up surrounded by major junior teams and who has talent but might not develop a NHL body by age 19 or 20 needs to know about other players have taken the longer path.
Those are each nobler goals than fulminating about not having a few NHL first-round picks in school for a year or two. It's just a lot less sexier for the media.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.