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What Do New NCAA Reforms Mean for College Hockey?

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By now, most people have heard at least a little about some major reforms the NCAA has announced that could take affect as early as next year . We'll go through all of them and what they mean for college hockey, before we get to the big one that everyone is talking about.

1. Strengthening the APR

The NCAA has decided to raise the minimum Academic Progress Rating to a 930 out of 1000, and teams that don't meet the minimum will not be allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament.

NCAA hockey has never had a team fall below the NCAA's threshold for APR rates, and most are pretty close, or in some cases at, the maximum score so this doesn't mean much. Alaska-Anchroage is the western school that has been the closest at times, but the NCAA rule change three years ago, requiring teams to have a winning record to make the tournament, probably hurts their tournament chances more than this rule.

2. Tougher Entrance Requirements

The NCAA raised minimum eligibility requirements, requiring high school seniors to have a 2.3 GPA, up from 2.0, and 10 of their 16 core classes completed prior to beginning their senior season. I guess the logic behind this is to keep players from zipping through an entire high school career in one year at some online diploma mill. It may be problematic for college hockey though, which recruits a fair number of players graduating from foreign high schools that may not necessarily tailor their curriculum for NCAA eligibility the same way the large majority of American schools might.

3. Multi-year Scholarships

NCAA schools will now have the ability to offer scholarships for up to four years, rather than only offering the one-year renewable scholarships they have been. On the surface, this seems like a positive step, but I'm not sure that it's any step at all.

First, because hockey isn't a "head count" sport like football or basketball, and scholarships can split up, this was already effectively the rule in hockey. A 50% scholarship equated to 2 years, 25% was one-year, etc. Second, the rule says a promised scholarship can't be taken away for any athletic reason. The problem is, though a spot in the classroom is guaranteed, a spot on the team isn't. And for kids that have spent their lifetime working to get to that level, not being able to play is a pretty big deal.

There's been plenty of break-ups between players and the programs they've played for over the years. It's an inevitability. But the amount of times a player had his scholarship straight pulled is pretty few and far between. Even in last year's most public dismissal in college hockey, involving Ohio State's Mark Osiecki and three players, those players were allowed to keep their scholarships and stay in school--which two of the three did. The new ruling provides an extra ounce of protection for the rare case, but for the most part, coaches don't have to be the one to take away a scholarship, because the players often do it themselves.

4. The Stipend

Everyone has heard about the proposed $2000 stipend that can now be attached to full scholarships, and that has raised a new round of chatter about whether to allow or continue to prohibit former CHL players from NCAA hockey. But if you want to get to the truth of the divide, Tuesday's story about the Ryan Johansen staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets may be more important to the debate.

Columbus had to make a decision on Johansen after he suited up for nine games for the Blue Jackets. One more game, and the Blue Jackets would basically be committed to keeping him for the full season. If they chose not to, he would have to be assigned back to Portland of the WHL. The NCAA makes it pretty clear that if a professional player can be assigned to a league by a professional team, then that league is basically a professional minor league affiliate, which affects the status of all the players that play in that league.

Credit the CHL for getting out ahead of the story two summers ago and saying "We want to make a partnership with the NCAA work, if they would just work with us."--a line I've often heard people parrot, but the truth is, even if the CHL goes another 30 years without giving their players a pay raise, making their pay even more embarrassing than it already is, it's not an issue that's up for debate until the league cuts their ties with the NHL. Two months after the CHL made that statement, they were up at the same podium arguing their agreement with the NHL should be strengthened, so you can see how much they're willing to cooperate.

Personally, I don't have a big problem with the theory behind the proposed stipend. As for the amateurism question, these players were already getting scholarship packages, in some cases worth $50,000 a year. If they're worth $52,000 next year, I don't see that as the tipping point.The logic behind it is pretty good too. It may not seem like much when your dad owns an electric company and the $2000 can only buy you the second most expensive laptop from Amazon.com, but most other sports don't draw from the type of socioeconomic group hockey does, and that $2000 will likely go a long ways for a good many NCAA athletes.

As for the actual practice, I've got more questions than actual answers. First among them is, will this even affect college hockey? Schools can give out up to $2000, but they don't have to, and with most athletic departments extremely cash-strapped as it is, those types of stipends might be rare. Big Ten schools could probably afford it, and the few schools were hockey is the driving force in the athletic department might be able to, but I highly doubt you'll see it from everyone. Would that widen the gap between the big schools and the little schools? Probably, but that gap already became uncrossable over the summer, if it wasn't already well before that.

Where it may end up hurting is at a school like St. Cloud whose athletic department is already in dire straits financially and may now have an extra expense to deal with to compete within their new league, or at a MAC school like Western Michigan, where more funds may need to be diverted to the football and basketball programs.

Or perhaps it could go the other way. Stipends can only be awarded on full scholarships, and teams can still only award 18 full scholarships.Three full scholarships is equivalent to four 75% scholarships. Maybe this hurts the depth at some of the bigger programs as they compete for the top players and frees up some players looking for full scholarships at smaller schools.