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Unless there is something out there we're missing, the NCAA is badly overstepping its bounds in banishing a Wisconsin freshman hockey player for the season.
The University of Wisconsin opened its men's hockey season Saturday night, winning an exhibition game over the U.S. Under-18 National Team at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Conspicuous by his absence from the Badgers' lineup on Saturday was freshman forward Nic Kerdiles, a second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks who was expected to make an impact as a top-six forward for UW this season.
After the game, reports surfaced -- and were confirmed by the university -- that Kerdiles sat because of an issue with the NCAA that affects his eligibility.
Monday, more information became available.
First, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves announced that Kerdiles has been suspended for the entire 2012-13 season. Because Kerdiles is required to serve the suspension while enrolled at UW, it's not feasible for him to play a year of junior hockey before returning to school. All that would do is delay his serving the ban.
The school is appealing the move by the NCAA, which has not commented or elaborated on the situation.
In our last update, we detailed two photos that have surfaced that may have put Kerdiles' eligibility in question. One is from a dinner at the NHL Scouting Combine with representatives from Pulver Sports.
The other situation includes a photo tweeted by Pulver Sports that shows Kerdiles and two other NHL prospects holding BioSteel supplements. That could be considered an NCAA violation of an athlete promoting a product.
Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reached out to Wisconsin deputy athletic director Sean Frazier, who has served on the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee and oversees hockey -- both men's and women's -- at the university. Frazier understandably couldn't say much, but told Baggot that the NCAA move here is "unprecedented."
We are in an interesting time for amateur hockey. Players have tough decisions to make about their own development, and there is pressure from many different areas. In this case, Kerdiles chose Wisconsin over the chance to play major junior hockey in Canada's Western Hockey League. The Ducks have been supportive of their prospects playing college hockey over the years, so it wasn't likely the organization would try to sway Kerdiles away from a choice he had already made before he was drafted.
However, the Ducks are probably not fond of the idea that Kerdiles could play no competitive hockey of note this season. Frankly, Kerdiles shouldn't be too keen on serving this ban, either. The WHL's Kelowna Rockets hold his rights, and if this situation isn't rectified quickly, it's hard not to think Kerdiles is likely to make the jump.
College hockey loses players to major junior all the time (sometimes these moves happen in the middle of a season, as in last year with Cam Reid leaving St. Cloud (Minn.) State for Portland of the WHL), but this is an instance where it's hard to blame the kid for jumping. Why would Kerdiles sit out a crucial year for his athletic development because the NCAA thinks he was promoting a supplement because he was in a photo holding one?
The NCAA cares about only two things -- football and basketball. In those sports, athletes are found to be afoul of NCAA rules, but routinely are allowed to continue competing because of this loophole or that (think about the Cam Newton case from 2010 for a moment, if you don't believe me). Kerdiles was emphatically told he couldn't play for his team until the situation was resolved. Now, he's being told he has to wait a year before he can.
(To be fair, we could be missing something here. However, no one seems to have found anything more incriminating than the supplement photo Johnson unearthed. If that's the case, the NCAA has some 'splainin' to do.)
When it comes to athletes in baseball, hockey, or other "lesser-regarded" sports, the rules matter, because the NCAA isn't raking in dough off these sports.
As someone who's covered college hockey for almost a decade, the perception among many involved in or passionate about the sport is that the NCAA almost treats hockey like it's a burden.
Athletes are subject to ridiculous rules scrutiny compared to other sports. The NCAA Tournament is a joke, with regionals routinely held in sub-standard facilities (as an example, the DCU Center in Worcester hosts regionals on a regular basis, even though it doesn't even have a press box). The NCAA has allowed ESPN the rights to all the hockey tournament games for years, even though no ESPN network airs a single solitary second of live college hockey during the regular season.
Basically, college hockey's success -- as much of a regional, niche-type sport that it is -- is solely the result of the people within the sport who work to promote it, and the athletes and coaches who participate. It has nothing to do with the NCAA, which apparently would rather get in the way than work to try to make things better.
The Nic Kerdiles situation is disappointing, but not terribly surprising. What's saddest about it is the idea that it's Kerdiles' advisors who should be facing the scrutiny, not the teenager who is supposed to know all the rules that not even Mike Krzyzewski knows.