A rather embarrassing summer for college hockey drags on. In what was already a rather weak draft year, the NCAA has faced defections from first round picks JT Miller, earlier this month to Plymouth, Jamie Oleksiak, earlier this week to Saginaw, and now seems very likely to lose Miami recruit Connor Murphy to Sarnia, with rumors that more could follow.
This has raised a new round of the annual debate between the NCAA and CHL. Brad Schlossman took up the NCAA's charge, while Neate Sager offered a rebuttal.
Both sides make good arguments, and the merits of each can be debated. It's been done at length here, and there's no need to get into again now. What is pretty tough to debate is which side is doing a better job at selling their message. What makes these three departures particularly stinging for college hockey is that all three could have played college hockey next season. It's one thing to lose players that don't have the immediate option of playing college hockey (Pat Kane, Anthony DeAngelo, Tyler Pitlick, etc.), but another entirely when players have the direct choice. When a player chooses to play with teenagers over 19-24 year olds, and cites a more pro-style as being one of the factors for doing so, that's pretty clearly an issue of message, and not being able to sell what NCAA hockey has to offer.
A big part of the problem is that college hockey is too busy fighting and scheming against itself these days to even worry about fighting against the CHL. Why should JT Miller or Connor Murphy think playing in the WCHA or CCHA for the next two years is worth their time when their own schools made it pretty clear that those conferences aren't good enough? Even College Hockey Inc., which was designed to help present a unified message for college hockey, has been neutralized this summer, since they work directly under college hockey's conference commissioners, and thus have had to keep fairly quiet on the current reorganization. It's another instance of North Dakota thinking they could do things better on their own, and, at least initially, being wrong, and another consequence to the sport that was apparently overlooked in the 20 minutes of planning that went into the Secondary Six.
This summer has been a strange and sad juxtaposition of two competing leagues that both wanted to get more serious about their image and their brand. In college hockey, that meant a group of teams conspiring and holding a self-congratulatory press conference to say that they were better than the rest of college hockey, and ultimately, did more to sell the virtues of some old hotel in Colorado than it did to sell the game of college hockey, while in the OHL, particularly in their western division, it meant doubling their efforts to acquire the best players available. One of those strategies seems to have really worked well. The other, not so much.