NCAA titles aren't won in the first month of the season, but they can be lost. For Wisconsin, Oct. 8th is a day it will look back upon as the possible difference between the making the NCAA tournament and not.
Of course, that's the day news broke that freshman forward Nic Kerdiles would be suspended by the NCAA for one full season for a violation of the NCAA's amateurism code. That suspension was later reduced to 30 percent of the season, or 10 games after going through the appeals process.
Kerdiles, who hails from Irvine, Calif., was a second-round draft pick of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks (No. 36 overall) this past June. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound forward was considered by some to be the top recruit in the country for the upcoming season.
The root of the issue with the NCAA stemmed from the hotels Kerdiles and his family stayed in at the draft. The family had hotels booked on their own, but was later told it could stay in rooms closer to the draft that were booked by family advisor Ian Pulver.
"I didn't know anything about the hotel situation at the draft," Kerdiles told Bucky's 5th Quarter earlier this year. "I was just excited to get to the draft, I wasn't worried about where I was going to be staying, and my parents had arrangements with all that."
"From this process I learned that my parents had a couple of hotel rooms booked near the airport, and we kind of found out that it was a little bit too far away. Our family advisor had some hotel rooms blocked downtown, so we used those rooms and paid for them right after. So, I guess that was an NCAA violation. We paid for them something like five days after the draft, and we intended to the whole time."
The NCAA considered it a loan from an agent, despite the fact that the family had every intention to pay back Pulver -- and it did -- within a matter of days from returning from the draft.
As Kerdiles told us this fall, he was preparing for the biggest weekend of his life, and he wasn't worried about whose name the hotel room was under.
"I'm 18-years-old, I don't make travel arrangements, and it's not my job to do that. So I had no idea about any of this. I was just looking forward to the draft, that's it."
And Kerdiles is right, it's not his fault. The reason that players have advisors is so that they avoid situations like these. This is the fault of Pulver Sports, who gave bad advice to an advisee and his parents.
The role of advisors for amateur players can be confusing, since most advisors are also certified agents. While you're not allowed to have an agent, you can have an advisor. See any problems here?
Bucky's 5th Quarter obtained a hockey-specific memo sent out by former College Hockey, Inc. director Paul Kelly last year while he was still in charge. The memo specifically addresses NCAA rules in regards to agents and advisors:
- Young athletes, who I will refer to as prospective student-athletes (PSAs), are not permitted to have agents who market their hockey skills or negotiate with professional teams on their behalf. The definition of a professional team includes major junior teams (NCAA bylaw 184.108.40.206.4).
- PSAs may not have written or oral agreements with agents. This includes agreements for future representation.
- Family members of PSAs are not permitted to have written or oral agreements with agents.
- PSAs are not permitted to accept benefits from agents, such as money, meals, clothing, hockey equipment, or other things of value.
- PSAs and their families are permitted to have advisors to offer guidance and advice, so long as that advisor does not market his or her client's hockey skills or negotiate with professional teams on behalf of the client.
- If a PSA or his family uses the services of an advisor, he must compensate that advisor in an amount equal to the services provided. A modest annual fee is recommended.
This memo was sent to every NCAA hockey team and every advisor. While student athletes and their families may not be aware of all the rules, advisors certainly better know them and are hired for that exact reason. The fact that Pulver blatantly ignored this and still provided a benefit -- despite it being a minor one -- is incredibly irresponsible.
Now, that mistake by Pulver may come back to haunt the Badgers.
Wisconsin currently sits at No. 16 in the PairWise rankings that mimic the formula used by the NCAA to determine the NCAA tournament field. If UW wins all three games this weekend at the Final Five, it will earn the WCHA's automatic-bid to the NCAA tournament. If the Badgers don't earn the auto-bid, they're going to need to rely on help from others to get an at-large bid in the 16-team field.
At this point, it appears Wisconsin is going to need to win at least two games this weekend to even have a chance at earning an at-large bid. If only they had taken care of business earlier this season, maybe they wouldn't have to sweat out the final weekend of the season.
During Kerdiles' 10-game suspension, the Badgers were putrid. They started the season 1-7-2 and looked helpless on offense. Since Kerdiles' return to the lineup, Wisconsin has gone 18-5-5 for a winning percentage of .732.
During Kerdiles' 28 games in the lineup, only four teams in the country -- Quinnipiac, UMass-Lowell, Minnesota and Niagara -- have better winning percentages.
Yet Wisconsin is sweating out the last weekend of the season to see if it will earn a bid in the NCAA tournament.
While the Badgers certainly faced other adversity at the start of the season, including injuries to Derek Lee and Mark Zengerle, Wisconsin's turnaround coincides with the return of Kerdiles to the lineup.
The freshman winger has recorded 26 points in 28 games and has found his name on the scoresheet in 19 of the 28 games he's played.
Kerdiles has also gotten better as the season has worn on. He's currently working on an eight-game scoring streak in which he's registered 12 points. Kerdiles has also recorded points in 14 of his past 16 games and is third on the Badgers in scoring despite the suspension.
Is it fair to assume that the Badgers would be a lock for the NCAA tournament had Pulver not made the mistake which led to Kerdiles' suspension? Possibly not. But there's no way Wisconsin starts the season 1-7-2.
Given the fact that Wisconsin's tournament hopes may come down to one or two games, you have to hope that one mistake by a person whose job it is to make sure these things don't happen doesn't cost the Badgers in the end.
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