Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo believes the NCAA opening up scholarship opportunities to WHL players is “inevitable.”
Hockey Night in Canada analyst Elliotte Friedman reported on his 32 Thoughts podcast this week that NCAA coaches could vote on making WHLers and their Canadian Hockey League brethren from the OHL and QMJHL eligible for scholarships as early as the end of this season.
“I don’t know where it goes or how long it takes but at the end of the day I do think it’s inevitable,” said Toigo, who stressed that he was speaking for himself and not the WHL. “It’s really going to be nothing about what we do. It’s going to be about what they (the NCAA) do. Their whole thing is changing.”
Major junior players are currently not eligible to play in the NCAA because they’re looked upon as professionals due to the stipend they receive from their teams. The WHL doesn’t publish how much money players get — “players do receive a very modest monthly stipend,” is what the league’s website reads on the matter — and teams keep quiet about it but there have been published reports of up to $120 weekly.
The NCAA introduced its Name Image Likeness (NIL) policy in July 2021, which allows athletes to have personal sponsorship deals. College sports website On3 has an NIL top-100 list, and USC Trojans guard Bronny James — son of Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James — is tops at $5.8 million US annually, followed by Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders — son of Buffaloes coach and former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders — at $4.7 million and LSU Tigers gymnast Livvy Dunne at $3.5 million. Georgia Bulldogs running back Trevor Etienne is No. 100, coming in at $569,000.
Throw in the NCAA loosening its regulations regarding transfers in the past few years, and the landscape is certainly changing, making it easy to fathom major junior players being in the mix for scholarships.
“It’s been a topic on and off over the years, but now I think its got more relevance,” Toigo said. “We’ve got our regular meetings coming up next week. I haven’t seen the agenda yet but it could be on that. It is becoming more front and centre.”
Friedman said on his podcast: “Even if coaches go for it, there’s the question of how quickly will the NCAA allow it to happen. So there’s that, but we are headed toward a future where CHL players are going to be able to play NCAA hockey. The question is when.”
Assuming the NCAA does go through with this, there are moving parts galore to sync up.
An NHL team drafts a player out of the WHL. They have two years to sign them to a contract. They have four years with a player drafted out of the NCAA. What happens with a player who, for example, jumps from the Giants to the University of North Dakota in midst of his draft year?
For each season played in the WHL, a player is awarded a one-year post-secondary scholarship. What happens with that?
NCAA hockey has gotten older the past few years. According to College Hockey Inc., Buffalo’s Canisius and Rochester Institute of Technology were the two oldest teams to start this season, with an average age of 23. Will NCAA teams and WHL teams have recruiting duels for high-end 19 year olds?
One of things to track if the NCAA does open up its hockey scholarship rules is if more Americans end up in leagues like the WHL. They have traditionally stayed away. According to Elite Prospects, the 22-team WHL is made up of 5.4 per cent American players (29), compared to 86.5 per cent Canadian players (463).
Americans have favoured Junior A leagues like the USHL and the BCHL. The BCHL — which is now 22 teams with five Alberta teams signing on last week — is 23.7 per cent American (132 players) this season.
According to College Hockey Inc., the NCAA was 63 per cent American (1,132 players) and 28 per cent Canadian (519) to start this season. The remaining players came from outside North America.
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