(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
The Big Ten has recently submitted a piece of legislation to the NCAA that would lower the age of eligibility for incoming recruits from 21 to 20 years old, or two years after the recruit’s anticipated high school graduation date.
Therefore, any player who chooses to wait until they’re 21 to play college hockey would start as a sophomore, thus conceding one year of eligibility.
While a 21-year-old freshman might sound like an oddity, it’s pretty typical in college hockey. Most players choose to play in a junior league, which is essentially a minor league, for two years after high school. In that time, players are being scouted by college coaches. The whole process is common place for NCAA programs and most coaches wait until after juniors to make an offer to any player.
With that being said, the average age for college hockey players is 20 years old, the highest average age for any NCAA sport.
So why, if college hockey recruits are typically older, would the Big Ten propose a piece of legislature that would limit the range of recruits? Wouldn’t that hurt their programs just as much as anyone else?
In last year’s NHL draft, the Big Ten had a total of 16 players drafted, the second most among college hockey conferences.
Of those 16, 14 of them were 18 years old. The other two were 19.
In a nutshell, the conference does not rely on 20 to 21-year-olds who have played in a junior league to be successful. It’s actually the complete opposite. Players who elect to play in the Big Ten are often times NHL prospects who have what it takes to be drafted one or two years into their collegiate careers.
Therefore, the rule change has a minimal effect on the conference. What it does is put most other programs who do recruit from the junior ranks at a disadvantage; it takes the concept that has been building a team and flips it on its head.
In addition, due to the fact that the Big Ten is recognized as an “all-sports” conference as opposed to most schools who have different programs in different divisions, like Notre Dame or ASU, who both have independent programs, the school is allowed to propose policy changes to the NCAA directly as opposed to consulting other coaches before doing so.
Self-serving, sneaky, and a complete waste of time. Let it be. https://t.co/qrL2bIxKnz
— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) November 25, 2015
So taking all of that into consideration, would anyone actually vote to enact this piece of legislature?
Well, yes and no.
According to College Hockey News, 49 college hockey coaches voted against the legislature, while only 11 were in favor of the change. Taking that into account, the majority of collegiate coaches are obviously against the new policy, but it can never be that clear cut.
Per NCAA rules, the voting is weighted by conference and breaks down as such: the conferences that are classified as the “Power Five” — the ACC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC — have their vote counted four times, even if they aren’t hockey conferences.
Five non-FBS football conferences — This includes the Mountain West, AAC and MAC — will have their votes counted twice.
22 of the remaining Division I multi-sport confrences, a group that includes Yale and Providence, two of the last three national champions, will only get one vote.
Union, the 2014 Division I National Champion, is among a group of 22 collegiate programs with no representation on the council and will not receive a vote.
There are also eight votes that belong to council members, a group comprised of athletic directors, presidents and even student-athletes.
The only conference with direct representation on the council? The Big Ten.
Given that information, each individual program from each voting conference will be able to try and influence their representative’s vote. In the end, though, one representative will speak for every team in their respective conference.
However, expect Arizona State to do all it can to prevent the Pac-12 representative from voting in favor.
“We are not for the legislation, we like it the way it is,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “For the same reasons the rest of college hockey likes it. Most importantly, I think you’re limiting opportunity to kids if you pass this and we’re a program that has a lot of kids that fell into that boat.
“Some kids need that extra year to earn the opportunity to play college hockey and I think it’s wrong to take that away from them,” Powers said.
The Sun Devils are in the midst of their first NCAA season. Their first recruiting class was comprised of 15 junior league recruits, all of them, at least 20 years old. Of those 15, seven of the team’s recruits, including Jordan Masters, the team’s current leader in points, would’ve been 21 before the season started and therefore classified as sophomores.
For Arizona State, a team that has made both “Embrace the Foundation” and “Be the Tradition” the mantras for its inaugural season, these are players who will help build a program, players who will provide an example for future programs who will inevitably make the leap to the NCAA ranks. Above all else, these are guys who, in most cases, earned the opportunity to be playing at their respective schools because of that extra year in juniors.
With this legislation, you run the risk of players trying to rush to the collegiate ranks with the hopes of playing for all four years. In another instance, the kids who need that extra year to earn a scholarship only get three years to play for their programs; hence, that collegiate opportunity for both the player and the school is limited. Not to mention, the smaller, new programs become siphoned out when it comes to recruiting and the Division I competition becomes limited.
For the Big Ten to be advocating this one-sided piece of legislature to try and “level the playing field” is frankly a detriment to the advancement of college hockey.
Should it pass, the landscape of how everything is handled from a recruiting standpoint would change dramatically.
The biggest problem with this proposal isn’t even the repercussions; it’s everything that has led up to the vote. The distribution of power in Division I hockey is flawed. That is evident by the fact that this legislation has even surfaced. Should it have been presented to coaches before the NCAA, it wouldn’t even have made it to this point, as the aforementioned poll demonstrated.
Now that it’s this far in the game, those 11 coaches have the power to sway this vote in one direction.
“I don’t see my stance changing on that, ever” Powers said. “I think that’s one of the things that make college hockey great. Even when we were in the ACHA we had a lot of kids coming in as 20-year-olds and there were kids that did everything in their power to earn a scholarship somewhere and it didn’t work out for them, but through further development and maturing themselves both on and off the ice they came in, they contributed to our university, our student body, community and helped build our program.
“From a coaching standpoint, I’ve coached 20 year olds fresh out of junior hockey really since I’ve started coaching. There’s just so many of them that are near and dear to me on this current team and from before. I think that’s what makes college hockey great.”
The legislation is set to be voted upon in April.