Ever since I can remember, college hockey has worked off the "gentlemen's agreement" when it comes to recruiting. Unlike college football and basketball who recruit players up until they sign a letter of intent with a school, hockey coaches stop recruiting a player after he has given a verbal commitment to a school.
I believe it may be time for that to change.
The annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention is taking place this week in Naples, Fla., and the gentlemen's agreement has been a topic of discussion. College Hockey News briefly touched on the subject today, noting that some believe certain schools are abusing the agreement.
Some coaches believe that is being abused, allowing schools to stockpile players and prevent others from recruiting them, then never following through later. For example, some Ivy League schools, which don't use Letters of Intent, could say they verbally committed a player, but then later, tell them they weren't admitted to the school. But, many coaches believe it happens elsewhere, too, not just by some Ivy schools.
For example, schools such as Notre Dame (22 verbal commitments), Quinnipiac (22), Michigan Tech (22) and Harvard (21) have huge numbers of kids committed, while North Dakota (19) and Boston College (19) aren't far behind. Considering teams typically field rosters of 26 players, those commitment totals have raised a few eyebrows.
Hoarding isn't the main reason that I'd like to see the agreement go away, however.
It's been my belief for some time that if the agreement goes away, we'll see fewer kids committing to schools at 14, 15, 16 years old. If a player can be recruited until he signs a letter of intent, there will no longer be a sprint to offer kids that can't even drive a car in hopes of securing their commitment three to four years before they will even set foot on campus.
The main argument against that point is the Canadian Hockey League, which holds drafts for 15-year-olds in the QMJHL and the OHL, and 13-14-year-olds in the WHL. It's a fair point, as well. College hockey is always competing against the CHL for talent, and I don't have a problem with colleges getting their foot in the door on elite talent before they make a decision to play north of the border.
College Hockey Inc., has done a great job in recent years of getting out to young players and holding summits in major areas in an effort to inform young players who will have options in both development routes of their rights as a young player. As that program continues to evolve, it will hopefully put less pressure on NCAA schools to offer kids as young as they have been recently.
I've written about players committing so young in the past, and my views haven't changed on the subject. A lot of kids are making uninformed, emotional decisions based on factors they may not even consider relevant when they actually arrive at the school down the road.
Wisconsin saw firsthand what can happen with early verbal commitments. Verona native Jordan Schmaltz committed to the Badgers at 14-years-old and later decommitted when assistant coach Mark Osiecki left to take the head coaching job at Ohio State.
I have no problem with Schmaltz's decision to back out of his commitment given the circumstances, but there are numerous examples of kids in similar situations who feel bound to their verbal even though it's not binding until they officially sign the letter of intent.
Circumstances at schools can change significantly over a three-to-four-year span, and when these kids commit so young they're not always entirely sure what they are getting into. I've heard multiple examples of kids committing on the spot when they take their first visit or receive their first offer. Think about how cool that would feel when you were 15 and a D1 college hockey coach offered you a scholarship to come play for him?
Eliminating the agreement would put significantly less importance on the verbal agreement, and in my opinion that's a good thing.
It should also stop coaches from handing out offers willy-nilly. College hockey coaches are so concerned about getting that verbal because they know once they get that commitment, they don't have to worry about him any more. The problem with this is that coaches are making mistakes on a lot of kids, and schools are getting saddled with a player who doesn't end up panning out for them.
Sometimes the coaches will pull the offer, or let a kid come to school for a year before telling him he no longer has a spot on the team. At that point, most kids are screwed. Eliminating the agreement may let coaches hold off on offering too early, instead waiting later in the game to fill out their classes. This gives schools a better evaluation of the talent of a player when he's more developed physically.
One thing it won't eliminate entirely is the possibility of players who have given commitments, or in some cases even signed letters of intent, backing out at the last minute to go to the CHL, or sign with NHL teams. What it does do is give schools more opportunity to replace that talent.
Miami and North Dakota have both been burned by summer departures to the CHL over the past few seasons. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases they are forced to bring in an older, unwanted player from lesser junior leagues because it's too late to recruit top talent at that point of the year.
If the gentlemen's agreement was no longer in use, these schools could recruit a player who may be committed to a different school for the following season, but is old enough to play college hockey. Patrick Wiercioch is an example of this. Wiercioch was committed to Wisconsin for 2009. During the 2008 NHL Draft combine, it was discovered that Denver defenseman David Carle had a heart condition and would be forced to retire from hockey. That opened up a spot for a blue-liner in the Pioneers' 2008 class, and Wiercioch decommitted from Wisconsin and went to Denver.
Again, I have zero problems with this. The kid was ready to play college hockey in 2008. In fact, he had an outstanding freshman season for Denver that year. Wisconsin just didn't have a spot for him at that point, and the kid jumped at an opportunity to play college hockey a year sooner.
If there was no gentlemen's agreement, this would give players and teams additional options as defections and circumstances change along the way.
Discarding the agreement will also help alleviate lazy recruiting after a player has already given his verbal commitment. Some coaches are great with their commitments, while others barely have communication after a player has given his verbal. From a time a kid commits to the time he ends up on campus, a lot of players sour on the coaching staff. I'm not saying this is a major reason why kids are giving up college commitments to head to the CHL, but I don't think it would hurt if a kid who is considering the CHL option has college coaches showing him love up until the time he signs his letter of intent.
Overall, I think the gentlemen's agreement is outdated and, at times, a hindrance to college hockey. College hockey has become big business with the money that some of these schools and coaches are making. It's crazy that they have to hitch their futures to players who won't even be on campus for three to four years in some instances.
Will ending the gentlemen's agreement solve early verbal commitments? No, but it's a step in the right direction.
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