As reported by College Hockey News on Tuesday, the Big Ten has proposed legislation to the NCAA that would lower the age limit on incoming hockey recruits from 21 to 20 years old, or two years after a player’s expected high school graduation date.
That proposal, and the manner in which it was proposed, has stirred considerable controversy.
First, there’s the proposal itself. The timing of it and the intentions are considered suspect by some coaches who are adamantly opposed to it. Then there’s the process in which it was proposed. Instead of debating this legislation as a college hockey body in Florida at the annual coaches convention, as all legislation in the past has been handled, the Big Ten proposed this unilaterally, without notification to its other conference partners.
That could be the bigger concern.
The actual rule change isn’t that big of a deal, though it is incredibly disingenuous. Why not just call it the Yale-Union-Providence rule? Whether or not it has anything to do with the last three national champions being first-time winners and infringing on the power programs’ private club, it certainly appears that way.
According to several sources, there was an informal straw poll of the 60 Division I programs that resulted in a vote of 48-11 opposed, with one abstaining. According to those same sources, the 11 programs that are in favor of the rule have won exactly half (34 of 68) of college hockey’s national championships. If we are to assume that all six Big Ten coaches voted in favor, with Ohio State and Penn State having never won national titles, that means we can surmise that nine of the 11 in favor have won half of the national titles.
That’s kind of a lot.
This isn’t an effort to “protect the game,” because older players simply aren’t a problem. In fact, after speaking to about a dozen coaches on Tuesday, all were in a agreement that their older players typically give more to their communities than younger players. They’re leaders on campus, serving as resident assistants and also are more easily adaptable to the social environment. Coaches also pointed to older players doing much better academically and also the graduation rate is much higher.
The only problem with older players, at least in the eyes of those in favor, is that it has created more parity in college hockey than at any other time in its history, and the power programs don’t like that infringement on their private club atop the sport.
As one coach anonymously put it: “Oh, you don’t like playing against 21-year-old freshmen? Well I don’t like playing against the 15 NHL Draft picks on your roster, so let’s make a rule to change that.”
In other words, this was selfishly proposed.
It’s also interesting that at a time when college hockey is growing, with programs at Penn State and Arizona State recently added and who knows what could come in the future, that there is an attempt to limit the player pool for recruiting.
What problem does this legislation solve? To me, programs recruiting 13-year-old players or unabashedly recruiting other committed players is a MUCH BIGGER issue than a 21-year-old freshman.
When Jack Eichel was off to a hot start with the Buffalo Sabres, most analysts pointed to his “playing against older players” at Boston University last year being a big reason why. If anything, it’s an advantage college hockey has over Major Junior. There’s also the late-bloomers. Just look at the college free agent market. How many players aren’t good enough in the eyes of scouts at 18 or 19, but suddenly at 21 or 22, have NHL teams knocking down their door?
There’s not even that many 21-year-old freshmen in the country. Most overagers are beginning their careers by the time they turn 20. In all reality this doesn’t affect that many players or potential players. So why make the change at all? Could it be to open pandora’s box? To establish a precedent? That way, down the road, if the Big Ten wants to propose more legislation that could have a larger financial effect on the smaller programs, it has cracked the door open and established a precedent to do so.
When the legislation goes to an NCAA committee for a final vote in April, it won’t be the college hockey community that votes on it. In fact, some members of the committee will have no connection, whatsoever, to college hockey.
That committee is made up of athletic directors, faculty athletic repesentatives, senior women’s administrators and some conference commissioners — most of whom have no connection to hockey-playing schools.
That’s terrifying if your one of the other 54 schools.
The Big Ten wields considerable power. It’s a “power conference.” Despite the large majority of coaches opposed to this legislation, when it goes to vote by non-hockey administrators, with pressure from the Big Ten, it’s conceivable that this legislation could pass. It’s a game of politics now, and there could be more lobbying going on around college campuses than the senate floor.
And if it does pass, it doesn’t change much. It would only affect a small subset of players. But it does open the door for more legislation in the future. It sets a precedent for six schools making the rules for the other 54.
Voted are weighted. Welcome to America.