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Life in the CHL

The Globe and Mail, Canada's largest national newspaper, is in the middle of a fascinating five-part series on Canadian junior hockey.

I thought the most interesting was James Mirtle's article on the CHL's scholarship program.

Whenever the CHL's PR people talk about their scholarship program, a quote similar to this gets thrown out:

The three leagues estimate they will contribute a combined $2.6-million toward scholarships for major-junior graduates this year, an average of more than $40,000 for each of the CHL's 60 teams. Teams also cover their players' education while they're playing.

The only problem is that you almost never hear the second half:

For one, only about 32 per cent of CHL players are tapping into the scholarship program, and those who never pursue college or university receive no financial benefit upon graduation. For those who do entertain the idea of postsecondary education, their window is closed within 18 months of leaving major junior.

Thirty-two percent(!). We'll add in the approximately 10% that at least make it onto an NHL roster at one point--which is being generous since even one full season at the NHL level probably isn't going to sustain you for life--and that still leaves over half the players that go the CHL route without the ability to make a career in hockey and without a college education. That's pretty scary to think about.

Mirtle taps into the key issue here that I've talked about for some time now. A player that ages out of the CHL and goes on to play in the minor leagues has to make a pretty huge decision after just a year and a half. They either have to give up on playing hockey, or give up on their education. All most of those kids know how to do is play hockey, and obviously not that many are able to walk away. That's great for the CHL, because it's money they don't have to pay out, but probably not so great for the player's future. Meanwhile, an NCAA player in the same spot can kick around the minor leagues as long as he wants, and when he decides he's done with that life, he's got a college degree and is ready to start a new career.

Also, I know unions sometimes take a bad rap, but holy cow...

"There's certainly an argument to be made that players should be getting a bigger piece of the pie, so to speak," Christie said. "Players are basically receiving the exact same compensation [about $50] now that they were receiving in the early '80s on a weekly allowance basis.

How in the world are they able to get away with that? No wonder teams are able to offer $500,000 to the very best players, and get so upset when people alert the public to the type of money that is out there.

All in all, it's a system that works very well for the very best players, but the number of kids in that group is much, much smaller than the number of kids that get told they could be in that group at age 15 or 16. The harsh reality is that the majority of those kids basically end up being serfs in this system and don't get much in return other than a couple fun years of hockey.