NCAA schools largely oppose opening the CHL, but they're preparing for the possibility of it

May 4—GRAND FORKS — College hockey teams were informally polled this week in Florida about whether they think the NCAA should allow Canadian Hockey League players to retain eligibility.

About two-thirds of college hockey is against it.

About a third supports it.

The main support is coming from teams in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Atlantic Hockey America. Those leagues are not necessarily unanimous in their beliefs. There is at least one CCHA team against it.

Without widespread support, there will not be a push to get rid of NCAA Bylaw, which states: "Major Junior Ice Hockey. Ice hockey teams in the United States and Canada, classified by the Canadian Hockey Association as major junior teams, are considered professional teams under NCAA legislation."

That bylaw has kept players from the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League ineligible for decades, even though most players in those leagues are not on professional contracts.

In December, a representative from the NCAA explained on a call with coaches that they could get rid of that bylaw if they wanted. It was framed to the coaches that it's entirely in their hands.

However, many of the NCAA's biggest changes right now are coming through the court system and not through NCAA legislation — the latest being multi-time transfers.

Aware of that, college hockey leaders decided last week in Florida to prepare for the potential opening of the CHL — or all professional ranks.

A working group has been formed to study the issue and make recommendations.

The group features the six league commissioners, one coach from each conference and American Hockey Coaches Association executive director Forrest Karr, the athletic director at Minnesota Duluth.

The six coaches on the committee are Colorado College head coach Kris Mayotte, Northern Michigan head coach Grant Potulny, Notre Dame assistant coach Andy Slaggert, Holy Cross head coach Bill Riga, Maine head coach Ben Barr and Cornell assistant coach Sean Flanagan.

"No matter how you feel about it, there's a likelihood of it changing anyway if it's challenged by someone," Hockey East commissioner Steve Metcalf said. "We should be prepared for the Plan B scenario. If things were trending that way, either by being dictated by the courts or something where there's going to be a change ... I hate to use the term 'guard rails,' but what guard rails might we want to put in place to help us manage that?"

The group had its first meeting Friday in Naples.

They plan on having a "steady diet of meetings" in the coming weeks and months, Metcalf said.

It won't just be to study the potential opening of the CHL.

There's a possibility the NCAA opens to all professional athletes. They'd still be bound by entry dates — their eligibility clock would begin ticking at age 21 — but that would open college hockey to thousands of European players who sign pro deals at young ages as well as North American minor leaguers.

If there are changes, the NHL would have to re-work its Collective Bargaining Agreement, which has different parameters for Canadian Major Junior players and NCAA players.

The NHL had representatives in Naples, Metcalf said.

"Once we've come together and sorted this stuff out, we'll have discussions with not only USA Hockey but also the NHL, the CHL, the USHL," Metcalf said. "We'll want to share our opinion more broadly with those groups."

Many members of the CCHA and Atlantic Hockey America are in favor of opening the CHL to widen the player pool. Those leagues are losing their top players to traditional powerhouse schools in the NCAA transfer portal. They want more outlets to replace them.

The other leagues are against it for various reasons, including that the current setup is advantageous to them.

That means change probably won't come through the traditional NCAA legislative process.

But college hockey wants to be ready in case change comes through the courts.

"I think the group has been given lots of freedom to represent college hockey," Metcalf said. "All the leagues met and discussed who they'd want to have on behalf of that group."

No matter what transpires, Metcalf is optimistic about college hockey's future.

"College hockey is in a strong position right now," Metcalf said. "There's no question about that."