The biggest story out of the prospect world this week centers around Anaheim Ducks second-rounder Nic Kerdiles, a talented power forward who was slated to begin his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin this month.
But Kerdiles was suspended by the NCAA for infractions that have yet to be officially revealed, but are not academically related and have largely been reported to be focused on his amateur status. The Wisconsin blog Bucky’s Fifth Quarter has been putting in a lot of work on the matter and points at Kerdiles’ relationship with the Pulver sports agency as a possible reason for the suspension.
Unlike major junior, if a player is in the NCAA, he cannot have an agent – though he can have a “family advisor.”
In reality, those are often the same people. The difference is that a family advisor cannot pay for a kid’s meals or flights to an event, for example. Also, there is no agreement of representation (i.e. a contract) between the advisor and player. Much has been made about the role of social media in this controversy, particularly photos of Kerdiles with “Team Pulver” and tweets from agents referring to the Ducks prospect as a “client.”
Nate Ewell, a spokesperson for College Hockey Inc. (an organization that promotes NCAA hockey and helps players navigate the often tricky waters of eligibility), noted that just this summer he had a different agent/advisor ask him about whether it was OK to acknowledge a player on Twitter or Facebook. The answer came back from the NCAA: yes, it’s OK, as long as there’s no indication of a relationship between the two. What would be fine is to say, for example, “Rocco Grimaldi had four points for North Dakota last night. That kid’s on fire.”
The University of Wisconsin has appealed the Kerdiles suspension and a hearing will take place as early as Thursday. But should the penalty be upheld, a kid who truly wanted the college hockey experience will be denied that. To serve the suspension, Kerdiles would have to actually be on the Madison campus for the year, meaning he could not go to the United States League (where Muskegon just put a claim in on him) and play hockey while waiting out his punishment. The California product is a highly touted player, one of the best to come out of the U.S. National Team Development Program last year – and as a high NHL draft pick, he cannot simply give up elite-level hockey for a season. So his other option is major junior, where the Western League’s Kelowna Rockets own his rights.
Hockey-wise, Kelowna is on par with Wisconsin in terms of developing top talent – Shea Weber, Tyler Myers and Jamie Benn all played for the Rockets in recent years, while the Badgers counter with Ryan Suter, Joe Pavelski and Derek Stepan, to name a few. But that’s little consolation for Kerdiles right now.
If the allegations about Kerdiles are as ticky-tacky as they seem, it’s tough to swallow. College hockey puts itself at a significant disadvantage in the recruiting wars with major junior and even its own commissioners have voiced their concerns over the NCAA’s blanket regulations for all sports when not all sports are the same.
For football and basketball, for example, the NCAA has a development monopoly – players have to suit up for at least one season if they want to be drafted into the NFL or NBA (though Brandon Jennings did go to the extraordinary measure of playing in Italy for a year instead of attending college before being drafted by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, but that’s a little-used loophole). But that’s not the case in hockey where major junior offers its vaunted pro-style schedule, plus education packages that include money for college – packages that have gotten much better in recent years.
“There’s an understanding that hockey is unique,” Ewell said. “But the NCAA rulebook is inflexible in those regards.”
I’m not saying the NCAA is wrong in any of this; all hockey players are governed by the same code, whether they be first round NHL draft picks or guys who will play their last elite game on Senior’s Night. That’s admirable. But with the pitfalls of eligibility becoming more onerous, I hope this isn’t a harbinger of things to come for college hockey. The stakes are high for NHL prospects and I like that some go major junior, while others go NCAA. It’s no good for anyone when a kid willing to put in the time and work at college is denied the opportunity.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.