Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fighting Back

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!


Anonymous said...

What if a coach leaves a month before the season? Thats hurts the school and kids. If you want it to apply to one it has to apply to all

Brad said...

I really don't see how this would work, especially for a school like Michigan who, to be among the elite, needs to sign players who are potential NHL draft picks. The CHL would be thrilled if the NCAA tried this. The guys projected to go in the 1st or 2nd round simply would never sign a LOI, and would just choose the CHL. If this rule had existed earlier, JMFJ would never have played for Michigan.

Basically NCAA hockey just has to put up with this. It sucks, but unlike basketball and football, high end hockey talent simply has other options, and if the NCAA makes the road too difficult, then those players won't consider college hockey at all. I would be in favor of changing hockey-specific recruiting contact rules, right now CHL teams can basically talk to prospects whenever they want while NCAA coaches are much more restricted. Simply being able to get into the ears of young players earlier to get them thinking about college hockey might help to level the playing field a bit.

And I really think you're worrying too much about 2013, Tim. Michigan is going to be able to offer 2 goalies a guaranteed shot at the #1 job at one of the best hockey programs in the country, we'll be more than fine. I do agree Hunwick getting hurt this year is a problem, so fingers crossed there.

Greg said...

The NCAA has dinosaur rules which put self interests ahead of the player and the sport.
You do realize kids also back out of CHL commitments and head to the NCAA?
The NCAA brings alot of this on themselves by being so restrictive to a players development.

Packer487 said...

@Anon: Definitely a fair point.

@Brad: I could see that. I guess that theory is kind of similar to the argument against letting ex-CHL players retain their college eligibility.

I'm not sure though. If it's a high-profile guy who legitimately isn't sure if he's willing to wait, he doesn't sign the LOI but says "If I'm playing college hockey, I'm coming here."

The team, then, at least knows where they stand. That the kid is giving serious thought to the OHL and there's no guarantee that he's coming. They can recruit as if he isn't coming (this is probably more likely for goalies where you're probably only taking one in any given year). If it's a kid worth waiting for, then you wait. The kid doesn't have to sign until he's sure. But the team can also find someone else if they want.

Once a kid signs with a CHL team, his decision is pretty much final. He loses the option to go to play college hockey. This would be kind of similar. You don't HAVE to sign but you can at any point. Once you sign, it makes it harder to go to the CHL. Not impossible (like the other way around) but certainly harder.

It just makes it so kids don't sign until they're SURE where they want to play. It also makes sure that if a team is putting all their eggs in one basket it's a conscious decision to take the risk.

@Greg: I'm not sure what you're getting at. I'm not saying you're wrong, just not sure if you're referring to only playing 40 games, or making kids be students as well (or something else).

They can't back out once they've signed, though. Once they sign, they lose their college eligibility, right? This would be similar. The NCAA couldn't make them lose their CHL eligibility, but if something like this was possible, it would at least make it tougher to bail at the last second.

There are always going to be players reneging on verbal commitments. I don't think you can do a whole lot about that. Kids should be able to change their mind if circumstances change. They are recruiting 15 year olds, after all. But at some point teams need to know who's coming and players need to be responsible enough to make a decision and stick with it. Don't commit if you aren't committed.

Brad said...

This is a good discussion, a couple more points:

Since we're talking about 15 or 16 year old kids, what they may be "sure" about one week could be completely different the next week. Think back to your own adolescence and you get the idea.

And I still think creating a monetary legally binding penalty for breaking a LOI will just drive NHL talent to the CHL. The whole reason a prospect loses the ability to play NCAA hockey after signing with a CHL team is because the NCAA has imposed a rule on itself that CHL signees are not eligible (with good reason IMO). The CHL has no such reverse rule prohibiting NCAA players from signing with their teams. If the NCAA suddenly says there's a monetary penalty for breaking it's "contract", the CHL teams and family advisors will be all up in prospect's ears about how college hockey just isn't worth the trouble.

Again, it sucks especially since this happened so late with Gibson, but other schools are being affected the same way and there just isn't a whole lot that can be done about it. Football and basketball players, if they aspire to reach the highest level, basically have no choice but to play in the NCAA system, it's a free development league for the NFL and NBA. Hockey talent has a legitimate alternative option that the NCAA has to work around the best they can. As I mentioned earlier, I would like to see some changes made for hockey only in regards to recruiting contact to try and enable NCAA coaches to at least be able to talk to prospects on the same level as CHL teams.

Brandon said...

I cannot believe the ACHA national championship game is on that ballot. I live in Newark and went to many of the games in the tournament this year. If you think that ACHA hockey with approximately ~500 fans in attendance is the best collegiate sporting event then you've really got to get out more..or at least buy a tv

Anonymous said...

Maybe a fifth year goalie thing has an impact on how goalies view chances to play a few games in college.

There is nothing in a LOI that gives a goalie playing time.

Anonymous said...

Dont get worked up ...all NCAA teams play by the same rules. If you are having a problem, then coaches need to make better recruiting decisions, or change their strategy.

Anonymous said...

At least in college hockey, unlike basketball and football, you know the kids are there because they want to go to college even though they have other options.