Friday, March 16, 2007

NCAA vs. Junior Hockey

With apology for the long gap between posts, I have a couple of stories that again focus on the relative competition for young Canadian players.

The first is a rather disjointed article by Steve Simmons in the Toronto Sun. He seems to have approached the story with a theory, regardless of what he learned in his interviews. Therefore, the article is couched as a story about the NCAA turning its back on Canadian players, citing the lower percentage of Canadian players in the NCAA, and then stating "While colleges won't admit it, there is inherent pressure, considering the relative strength of American hockey, to prefer Americans over Canadian."

The problem with his theory is that the people he quotes say just the opposite - they'd love to have more Canadians, but are unable to present their option to 15 year olds, thereby losing out to a system stacked in favor of Major Junior hockey. As Jeff Jackson notes:

"There's not much of a fight with the junior leagues because we can't compete on an even playing field. They draft a kid at 15. Kids are getting agents when they are 14. It's the agent's job to lock up the kid. So what do you do if you're the agent? Does he send him to junior hockey, where you now have a client's signature on the dotted line? Or does he advise him to go to college, where you can't represent him?

"The juniors are in business. The agents are in business. The decisions are being made at too young an age."

None of this seems to register with Mr. Simmons, who concludes with the alarmist view that "The next tier of Canadian players may not [have a scholarship option]."

From the comments of Coach Berenson and Jackson, it seems that they are frustrated with the lack of ability to meet with and educate the players at the necessary age. As I've written before, the NCAA rules, prohibiting teams from initiating contact with players before their senior year may make sense in sports where the competition is between schools, but makes little sense for players who have a third, non-NCAA option. I've never understood why the NCAA doesn't allow teams to make a pro-NCAA sell to these kids, when the other result is to provide pro leagues with the contact for these young kids.

Another interesting debate arises out of the USA's venue for developing players for the NCAA, the USHL. The USHL's Central Scouting Service continues to present the case for attracting players from Canada, showing the long odds of players getting to the NHL, and the advantages of securing an education. With the Candian Development Model pushing elite players into a choice at age 16 between major junior or a lesser level of play, the USHL is striving to present a third option. Each year the USHL continues to gain in depth, and becomes a stronger option, and is gearing its program at the younger talent pool (witness, the Future's draft). Whether this sways the decisions of 15 year olds remains to be seen.