It has been said before and needs to said again: the NCAA is sometimes the bane of its own existence with regard to prospects such as J.T. Miller, who made it official with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers one day after signing his NHL deal with the New York Rangers, ending up in major junior hockey after initially committing to a well-regarded NCAA Division I team.
One modest proposal is not every player who magically changes his mind in July should be painted with the same brush. If the situation with the college team changed, it's similar to asking for a trade; if the player was signed by his NHL organization like Miller, the centre who was Team USA's leading point-getter at the recent IIHF world under-18 championship, that's acceptable. Players who back out late in the game before signing a pro contract is a bit uncool, as previously noted. With that out of the way, it does need to be said that referring to Canadian Hockey League teams as poachers or referring to players who head north as defections is over the line. Whatever happened to a hockey world without borders?
One would wish Miller, or new Kitchener Ranger John Gibson, or new Sarnia Sting Connor Murphy and Reid Boucher, had been upfront prior to the NHL draft about the possibility of ending up in junior, since it's become such a trend. At the same time, this is the off-shoot of the NCAA's insistence on having this hermetically sealed idea about amateurism. It's 2011, not 1911. The inflexibility-as-policy that means a NHL draft choice playing in college cannot attend a September rookie camp and that goalie Julien Laplante lost a year of eligibility for playing one period in a WHL preseason game, forces players' hands. As Dean Millard put it:
This trend will continue until the NCAA relaxes its rules and allows players who have skated in the CHL or signed contracts play south of the border. If that was allowed then I'm sure you would see many players suit up for a year or two then decide that college hockey was for them, just like Jamie Oleksiak decided after just one year at Northeastern.
But let's be realistic. The NCAA cares about football, basketball and baseball. It gives a courtesy nod to hockey as it passes in the hallways, but then likely has to ask what that was. (Coming Down The Pipe!)
That will probably happen around the time the Buffalo Bills face the Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl, so, yeah. Meanwhile, as Jess Rubenstein wrote today, there is a bit of hypocrisy that the NCAA denies its hockey players from anything with the whiff of professionalism. It's a bit rich that NHL draft choices, who are pros in utero, have to go along with this amateur code at the same time their schools' athletic departments are angling to greater monetize college hockey by forming so-called superconferences.
What does bother me is while these 18-20 year old kids are being trashed for their choices there is nothing being said about schools jumping conference.
... Those very same North Dakota Fighting Sioux are banding together with five other traditional college hockey powers to form a new conference now that the Big Ten has decided to form their own hockey league thanks to Penn State adding hockey in 2012-2013.
Never mind that being left in their wake are the smaller schools who better known as college hockey's "have nots." Ah who cares about the future of St. Cloud State or Ferris State when you can have your own TV Network like the Big Ten (actually the Small 6 since only half of the members play men's hockey) or have Versus going after the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference (North Dakota's new home).
And gee look at all the conferences throwing themselves trying to lure Notre Dame to join them when the new super conferences begin play. Money money money money got to have that money but not if you are an 18 year old kid.
See the problem with NCAA hockey is in fact the NCAA and its rules. A kid who plays all of 20 minutes in an exhibition game for the Portland Winterhawks finds himself out not only a scholarship but he loses an entire year of eligibility transferring to another school. (The Prospect Park)
It's a complex issue, and if nothing else this post is really just a plea for transparency. The college commitment/drafted by NHL/commit to CHL song-and-dance is getting pretty cliche and frankly, a college commitment is worth more than just using a team and its fans as a negotiating chip. It's great blog fodder, but it's not always for the greater good.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.