October 21, 2009
There was a very interesting collegiate sports article on ESPN.com yesterday about a proposed eligibility rules change by Michael Rogers, chair of the NCAA Division I Amateurism Cabinet, to allow coaches to recruit athletes from professional teams.
Most interesting? That NCAA hockey has "balked at the proposal, which will be amended to exempt that sport."
Basically, the rule change would allow athletes who play alongside a professional teammate in a given sport -- if those athletes do not take what's considered a salary -- from jeopardizing their NCAA eligibility for doing so. The current rules affect plenty of foreign athletes in sports like volleyball and basketball, who play on sponsored club teams with salaried teammates while U.S. athletes are playing high-school sports.
Of the 490 incoming athletes penalized for amateurism violations last year, 434 were foreign students, according to the NCAA. Punishments range from being forced to sit out games to, more rarely, permanent ineligibility.
Rogers claims the rule change would "reduce the size of our headaches" for the NCAA in investigating an athlete's eligibility by tracking down spotty records or the status of former teammates. The opposition worries that "professionalized" players have an unfair advantage, and that U.S. athletes could be left behind:
"There are a certain number of coaches who say only Americans should get these scholarships," said Bill Walton, head volleyball coach at the University of Houston. "We hear that from some parents, too. They've been paying $6,000 to $10,000 a year for volleyball [training], and feel like their kid should get that scholarship."
At first glance, we figured NCAA hockey coaches and conferences were attempting to quell any influx of European quasi-professionals into their ranks; a bunch of prospects like Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman(notes), who was playing with the pros as early as 17.
But according to the NCAA, they opted out of this proposal for another reason: Out of concern for Canadian Major Junior hockey.
The men's ice hockey community - including USA Hockey, the coaches association and several conferences - believed that Proposal No. 2009-22 could negatively affect the sport at the NCAA level. They believe that allowing men's ice hockey student-athletes who participate on teams with paid teammates would open the door to participate in Major Junior A hockey, which current rules prohibit. Major Junior A is a competitive league overseen by the Canadian Hockey League, generally recognized as a professional league for players between 16 and 20 years old.
Proposal No. 2009-22 targets what some have called "vicarious professionalism," a circumstance that professionalizes prospects who participate on teams with professional athletes, even if the prospects are not paid more than actual and necessary expenses.
The ice hockey community believes that prospects who wish to participate in NCAA hockey would choose to participate in Major Junior A hockey before coming to college, and the recruit could be influenced to take action that could jeopardize his eligibility at the NCAA level (taking more than actual and necessary expenses, signing with an agent or signing a professional contract that provides more than actual and necessary expenses). Additionally, time demands of participation in the Major Junior A hockey league could hurt a recruit's academic performance.
Yeah, academics. Whatever.
Seriously, though, it sounds like a combination of trying to save potential student-athletes from temptation and, in the end, the NCAA from itself.
Opening up the floodgates for "vicarious professionals" would mean increasing the chances that Major Junior A players could be lured to the NCAA ... but it also would increase the chances that the CHL would unleash the fury on college hockey in the U.S., enticing the NCAA's potential talent to play for the Canadian league instead.
Better to keep the status quo for hockey, we suppose. But we heartily support the recruitment of semi-pro European babes for college volleyball teams ...
Thanks to Ryan Lambert for some insight on this; make sure to read his NCAA column here on Puck Daddy every Friday.