This is going to be a major week for college hockey, as the NCAA introduces new recruiting rules that will change how kids and coaches interact. At the heart of the matter is early recruiting – often seen as the bane of existence by programs and coaches, but a necessary evil for keeping up with the competition.
As of May 1, there can be no more recruiting conversations between a player and a coach before Jan. 1 of the player’s sophomore year in high school. And now, a verbal scholarship offer from a coach cannot be made until Aug. 1 of the player’s upcoming junior season of high school. The whole idea behind the changes is to cool down what had become red-hot recruiting wars for players, some of whom haven’t even been in high school yet when they’ve made commitments to NCAA programs.
Men’s college hockey is fairly unique within the NCAA realm because of the recruiting competition from major junior hockey. Other sports (football in particular) have a virtual monopoly on talent before that talent is eligible for the pro ranks. Women’s college hockey is actually closer to those other sports too, since there is no major junior for girls right now.
For players weighing the pros and cons, it can be a difficult path to navigate. It is certainly easier to play major junior, because you can do it at 16 (even 15 if you’re a phenom granted Exceptional Status). Maintaining NCAA eligibility however, takes preparation.
First off, you actually need to graduate high school – which means going to class and getting decent enough grades, while also playing hockey at a relatively high level. You also have to play in a league that maintains your college eligibility – whether that be the USHL or NAHL in the states, or one of the various Jr. A leagues across Canada, for example.
And those going back-and-forth on their decision must be careful: even playing in an exhibition game against another major junior team can seriously mess up a player’s college eligibility.
The importance of all these rules is why a good family advisor (the NCAA-approved version of an agent) can make all the difference and the changes sit well with them, too.
“They’re positives,” said one advisor. “They’re progressive and they are going down the right path. Kids don’t have to be in a rush now, the peer pressure will be gone.”
Because there is a lot to consider. Yes, a school may look appealing to a player when he’s 14, but that program could have a completely different coaching staff by the time he lands on campus five years later. And it’s important for the parents to know the process, too.
“A lot of what drives kids these days is based on keeping-up-with-the-Joneses,” said another advisor. “And the parents want to be problem solvers, instead of thinking about things logically.”
In the end, a binding National Letter of Intent, which can’t be signed until the beginning of a player’s Grade 12 year, is the most important for the second advisor, which is why early commitments can be fraught with peril: there’s nothing binding about them and no consequences for going back on your word.
The first advisor also noted that the new recruitment policies will actually help out major junior in an intriguing way: now, it will be harder for players to manipulate major junior drafts by claiming they are already committed to NCAA programs. Sure, they can still claim they will be heading to college, but it’s a lot more intimidating if there’s an actual school name attached.
Finally, the new regulations demonstrate what a good job College Hockey Inc. has done in the past few years. That advocacy group has been a great go-between for the NCAA, which isn’t used to dealing with competition for its athletes. With a primary assist to College Hockey Inc., the NCAA is becoming a little more flexible on matters and advisors are very impressed with what the organization has brought to the table.
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