Lots of people are talking about the idea of having major junior (CHL) players becoming eligible to play NCAA hockey. Nearly all of the talking is coming from Canadian sources, and no one from the NCAA is commenting on this. The lack of chatter in the NCAA ranks, and any acknowledgement from NCAA offices says a lot.
Lets examine a few items that would need to be resolved before anyone can get excited about any potential deal being made.
- The CHL – NHL development agreement was extended in the summer of 2022 and will not expire until 2029. This is a significant hurdle for CHL players to overcome, and any changes to any potential NHL draft eligibility, or compensation for NHL drafted players, or any other number of components would have to be approved by the NHL before the CHL could even make an agreement with the NCAA.
- How many CHL players would leave the CHL for the NCAA, or USHL, NAHL, and NCDC for their draft year in order to avoid being locked into playing in the CHL as a twenty year old when if they are drafted outside of the CHL they can go right to the AHL as 19 or 20 year old players avoiding the requirement of having to play in the CHL unless playing in the NHL before turning 20?
- The CHL education packages would need to be clarified, for NCAA purposes, as well the NCAA having to make changes to its scholarshiping rules. It is highly unlikely that the CHL players could become eligible for NCAA scholarships when they already have earned them in the CHL. Given each NCAA program being limited to 18 full ride scholarships for an average of 30 rostered players per team, taking from those scholarships to fund another player who already has his tuition paid, will likely not pass NCAA compliance.
- Legal issues for every NCAA program who has made verbal commitments to players for the next few years who could potentially lose their opportunity will certainly involve court action. While players and programs do de-commit for each other, being forced off a roster or forced into a transfer portal due to a rule change like this will definitely result in lawsuits.
- How does the NCAA handle USA Hockey, the USHL, NAHL, NCDC and Canadian Junior A that have been built upon, and in the cases of USHL, NAHL and NCDC, specifically created for the NCAA? How does the NCAA handle this politically when this change if adopted would over night devalue every USHL, NAHL, NCDC and Junior A franchise, wiping out hundreds of millions in investment. While the USHL impact would be minimal if any, the impact on the NAHL, NCDC and Junior A would be astronomical.
- How does the NCAA explain this to the EHL, USPHL, NA3HL and other pay to play Junior A in Canada producing NCAA D-3 players that the trickle down effect of some players being bumped from D-1 will make their D-3 development models that much more difficult as their franchise become devalued? In the case of the EHL, USPHL, and NA3HL, these three leagues account for nearly 90% of all D-3 players. Remembering that D-3 is for academic scholarships and not athletic.
- How does the CHL make this pill easy to swallow for all the Canadian University teams that would lose their CHL recruits and the scholarship money paid to those institutions? This could be the death blow to Canadian University hockey.
- What happens to the 18 year old player who leaves the CHL after two years for the NCAA. Who after two years of NCAA play, and the CHL paying his scholarship as agreed. What if that player simply does not pan out and develop into what the CHL and NCAA thought he would become? The player still has two years before graduation and has no money to pay to attend University. So unless this player is also an academic leader, and qualifies for academic scholarships, what does he do? Is he left hanging? Can he go back to the CHL? What if no CHL team wants him back?
These are just some of the items that would have to be cleared up before this could get to a vote. The vote in itself is also a very political issue. While its expected that smaller NCAA programs, that do not regularly get NHL drafted players, or have players drafted into the NHL while attending their program will vote in favor of a change if it gets to a vote, the power house programs will vote against it.
Anyone thinking schools, like Michigan, Denver, Boston College, Boston Universtiy, North Dakota and others like them will be voting in favor of this needs to rethink things. The most successful programs dont need help, and just imagine if they started taking the top CHL players away from the CHL, how those CHL franchises would be devalued.
In any conversation, admissions standards would not be changing. Non high school graduates are non qualifiers for NCAA D-1. Meaning if you dont actually graduate you cant attend a D-1 program. Each university admissions standards would also have to be met by CHL players. A player with a 3.0 GPA is not getting into Harvard or Yale to play hockey.
While we understand that the Name Image and Likeness compensation for NCAA athletes rules changes are the basis for looking at the CHL issue. It needs to be understood that when it comes to NCAA athletes from Canada, those changes have not resulted in athletes making money in other NCAA sports. Other NCAA rules regarding work performed and where it is performed all but eliminate Canadians and other countries from participating in NIL compensation.
NCAA hockey pays for itself. It is not a huge revenue stream compared to American Football, Basket ball, and even Baseball. NCAA hockey also has the highest graduation rates in all NCAA sports, so CHL players coming and going will likely have a negative impact on that graduation rate. This effects all scholarship money.
If this change gets to a vote, and if it is even voted in, the standards for NCAA admissions are likely to be made tighter and not looser. The only reason the NCAA has to even consider this is to avoid lawsuits from Canadian players who want to test the rules based on NIL compensation.
The CHL might be asking itself if the proposal is made to happen, if they could afford to pay NCAA D-1 tuition. The average Canadian University tuition is approximately $28,000 in Canadian dollars. The average NCAA D-1 tuition is closer to $40,000 in United States dollars or $50,000 in Canadian dollars. How does the CHL and its member teams manage a nearly fifty percent increase in education package costs?
While the idea of CHL to the NCAA has been floated for the last fourteen years, nearly every year, it is not the CHL that started this discussion this time. There are no formal discussions between the CHL and NCAA on this matter, that anyone in the NCAA will confirm. The NCAA is floating the idea in order to avoid further court action, not out of want or out of necessity.
TJHN will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.