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NCAA Hockey Eligibility: Leaving the Option Open

The NCAA has strict and detailed rules governing the way student-athletes are recruited , the way they agree to join a program and more particularly for determining eligibility. The rules are taken very seriously by the NCAA and each university within the NCAA. The consequence of not complying with the rules can be quite serious.

For example, in the 2011 recruiting year Julien Laplante, a goalie who played for the Bonnyville Pontiacs was found to have played one period in an exhibition game for the Western Hockey League’s (“WHL”) Portland Winter Hawks a few years ago. As Ken Schott reported:

“First-year Union head coach Rick Bennett said … that Laplante won’t be tending goal ever for the Dutchmen… That is in violation of NCAA rules because players who are in Canadian major junior hockey are paid. The Winter Hawks held Laplante’s Canadian Hockey League rights”

Whether Laplante was actually paid for his appearance doesn’t seem to matter. Simply because the WHL is considered a professional league all players lose their eligibility. According to the NCAA, players can maintain their eligibility if they try-out for a professional team prior to joining a college team, but they cannot try-out for a professional team once they have

Julien Laplante of the Bonnyville Pontiacs

joined their college team. If they do, they will lose their eligibility. Players need to be careful with what constitutes a “try-out”. College Hockey Inc has a good checklist for players considering a CHL or other professional league tryout.

The eligibility rules force young players to make a key decision leading up to their CHL draft year; whether they will leave the NCAA door open or not.

Aside from not playing pro before joining a college team, for student-athletes currently in high school its important to note that there are certain grade point averages and mandatory classes to take.

When Mark Wires was going though this process his academic advisor failed to mention that in order to be eligible for the NCAA he was required to have a grade 12 (senior year) english course. In Ontario high schools grade 12 english, at the time, was not mandatory. Not having taken the proper core courses almost cost him his eligibility; save for the bending of a few rules in Ontario school system.

According to the NCAAStudent.org guide the requirements during in 2009-2010 included:

  • Graduating from high school;
  • Completing these 16 core courses;
    • 4 years of English
    • 3 years of math (Algebra 1 or higher)
    • 2 years of natural or physical science (including one year of lab science if offered by your high school)
    • 1 extra year of English, math, or natural or physical science – 2 years of social science
    • 4 years of extra core courses (from any category above, or foreign language, nondoctrinal religion or philosophy);
  • Earning a minimum required grade-point average in your core courses; and
  • Earning a combined SAT or ACT sum score that matches your core-course grade-point average and test score sliding scale (for example, a 2.400 core-course grade-point average needs an 860 SAT).

There is also a requirement to graduate with your high school class.  That is, players must complete the 16 core-course requirement in eight semesters, which begins when you initially started high school with your ninth-grade class.  On the other hand, players like Mike Cammallaeri managed to graduate high school in just three years.

The NCAA Eligibility Center

All high school student-athletes who hold out for the US college route have to register with the NCAA’s Eligibility Center (formerly the NCAA Clearing House). There’s a $95 fee for Canadians to register.  As noted above, even Canadian’s intending on joining an NCAA program must write the SAT. Most university programs have minimum test scores that athletes must obtain in order to be offered a spot on the team, although standards vary from team to team.

Players wanting to leave the NCAA route open should register with the NCAA Eligibility Center at the beginning of their junior year in high school. At the end of the student’s junior year, a transcript, including six semesters of grades, needs be sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center from the high school. Additionally, students should have their SAT scores forwarded directly to the NCAA Eligibility Centre.

Some tier II Jr. teams gear their programs towards promoting the NCAA route, including the North York Rangers in the Ontario Jr. Hockey League (“OJHL”). Those deciding to stick it out and protect their eligibility more often than not chose to join a provincial Jr. leauge like the OJHL. However, in some US States it is still popular to play high school or prep school hockey. There is also a growing trend towards the USHL.

For an overview of eligibility rules in aid of college bound athletes check out this guide (note however it is a 2009-2010 guide)

*** WARNING: This article is intended for informational purposes only. This article does not set out all of the relevant rules and rules change. Players must ensure they have complied with current rules and are encouraged to research the rules themselves or seek professional help. Contact the NCAA Eligibility Center and NCAA.org for official details.




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