Let me preface this post by saying I have absolutely no idea if anything like this is even possible. I suspect there are plenty of reasons that it can't happen, but my mind has been spinning the past couple of days (for obvious reasons) about what the NCAA could do to, if not level the playing field, at least give their teams a little more protection from the John Gibson's of the world.
I don't know all the specifics, but when a player signs with the NTDP it's binding and a settlement is required for the player to break that agreement. Chris from The United States of Hockey passed along some info to me last night about it. But the gist is that if a kid wants to play in the CHL after he signed with the NTDP, someone is ponying up.
So while colleges may not be bound by the same transfer agreement that kids for the NTDP are, I have a really hard time believing that some of the NCAA lawyers couldn't draw up a National Letter of Intent that would be legally binding and would hold up in court.
Essentially, in my fantasy land, it would go something like this: If you sign this LOI, you are playing for this college team for at least one season. If you break this agreement and go play in the CHL, you will compensate this school for the negative impact on their season by paying $X.
Then I'd open up the signing period. Right now, kids can sign over the course of a week in November and from mid-April through July. What if you just open it up? Say that you can sign anytime beginning with September the year before you are set to enroll? Again, there's probably a good reason it can't happen, but stick with me here.
So now we're a year out and it's time to start finalizing the recruiting class for the following season. You put the LOI in front of the kid and his parents and ask for the signature. The kid signs. Beautiful! He's locked in, and if he bails for the CHL the school is at least going to be compensated in some form. It at least makes it tougher to go. If he doesn't sign, then he's basically saying that he wants to keep his options open. Then the school is able to recruit as if he isn't coming because he's telling you that there's a decent chance that he isn't coming!
At least that way you're going to find out who is serious and who isn't. In the current state of recruiting, a kid isn't solid when he verbals (Jared Knight). He isn't solid when he signs his letter of intent (Alex Legion...ERRRRRR...John Gibson). He isn't necessarily solid when he sets foot on campus (no example, but I'm sure someone can throw one out there). He isn't even solid when he's played a year and change for you (Robbie Czarnik).
Something like the above would at least give the coaches notice if a player is committed to playing college hockey. If they aren't, then you have a year to find a replacement. You're more in a Jack Campbell position than a John Gibson. If they leave late in the game, at least the school is getting compensated.
There are still flaws: 1) I'm not sure it's even possible to do, which, clearly, is the big one. 2) In Gibson's case, I'm sure the Rangers would have had no problem ponying up to get their guy, which still leaves us sans-goalie. But Gibson also may not have ever signed his LOI, which would've been a clue that he wasn't coming.
In the end, these kids are doing what they think is the best for their career and it's hard to fault them for that. At the same time, when you're a guy like Gibson, the school is depending on you. They're passing up the chance to sign another talented goaltender. They're committing a scholarship to you. And really, the kid doesn't ever really have any skin in the game. He can flip at any second and leave the college in a horrible position.
Michigan now has to find at least 1 goalie for the 2012 season. Maybe two, depending on if Janecyk shows enough to count on him as a backup for a second season. What happens if they get left at the alter for a third-straight season? We're absolutely screwed.
At some point your word has to mean something. You're not just making a decision that only impacts yourself. There are people's livelihoods potentially at stake, twenty-five other kids whose team is hurt by your selfishness, plenty of blogging hours down the drain, etc. (I'm kidding about the last one. Kind of.)
The CHL can really do whatever the hell they want. Promise the kid anything. Keep talking to them after they're signed. Keep talking to them while they're playing for the college. Get in their ear during the summers. The NCAA can't do any of that. I'm not advocating that the NCAA open the door to CHL kids, as I agree with the point that it could actually lead to more top-notch players going to Major Junior. But there has to be some way that they can help their teams out, give them some more clarity as to who is coming and who isn't, and compensate them if a kid decides all of a sudden that the CHL is the way to go, even though theoretically they've had years upon years to think about it.
Feel free to tell me why this can't work. The whole premise depends upon being able to find a way to make the LOIs legally binding. Maybe it can't be done. Maybe there's a perfectly good reason not to try to implement something like this. I'm curious to hear what people think: Is there a way to help the NCAA fight back? Should they even try?
A couple of other things:
I mentioned this on Twitter, but I'd like to thank Stephen Nesbitt again for the new banner on the site. I absolutely love it!
The Big Chill was nominated for Best Collegiate Sporting Event by SportsTravel magazine. You can vote for it here. You should also vote for the Indy 500 as the Best Professional Sporting Event because it was amazing and Bryan Herta's driver won.
The Alumni Game will take place on August 5. JMFJ is in!