First, my disclaimer – I am not a compliance official of any sort. I have a weird fascination with NCAA compliance. The material below is just my interpretation of the rules in a easily digestible form for fans. It should not be used by student-athletes or athletics officials for any formal use.
All of Boston University is still abuzz with the future of rising sophomore Colin Wilson’s potential jump to the NHL after the Nashville Predators drafted him 7th in this year’s NHL Draft. Everyday, there seems to be a different opinion about what he will do – stay another year in college or make the jump to the pros. Yes, he was Hockey East Rookie of the Year last year, and that’s indicative of his immense potential, but his offensive production left a bit to be desired and he took a while to find his footing in the college game. Because of that, everyone’s opinion about what he’ll do seems valid – it’s totally up to him at this point. He’ll be a fun and powerful hockey player wherever he plays next season.
But how can Colin Wilson even entertain a professional hockey team holding his rights and attend Predators development camp while he is still deemed an eligible student-athlete by the NCAA? Because in certain sports, the NCAA makes provisions for professional teams to draft currently eligible players. However, there are quite a number of provisions placed on the drafting of student-athletes to maintain their amateur status.
Drafting by a professional team is regulated by NCAA Division I Bylaw 12, Amateurism. Specifically in sub-heading 12.2.4 “Draft and Inquiry”, it is regulated that an eligible student-athlete may enter a professional draft once while remaining eligible for NCAA competition. Regulations involving entering the draft differ by sport. Hockey isn’t specifically noted in this section – it falls under “Other Sports Other Than Football and Basketball.” An hockey player can enter a draft prior to enrollment in college, or once while enrolled in college.
A student-athlete can not use an agent to negotiate with any professional team (although there is currently a controversy with college baseball and the use of agents, as an addendum for baseball seems to counteract this regulation.) Provisions are made to allow for legal counsel to look at any prospective contract a team offers a student-athlete, but that legal counsel can not engage in representing that student-athlete to a professional team. Additionally, a student-athlete can not agree, in any form, to be represented by an agent in the future – that also compromises their eligibility. However, student-athletes are provided with the advice of a “Professional Sports Counseling Panel,” established by the institution, regarding their future professional careers. This panel can review a proposed contract, can communicate with a professional sports team to set up a tryout, and can help a student-athlete (who has exhausted their eligibility or is going professional) review sports agents/representatives. This panel can only have one member from the institution’s athletics department, and no member can be employed by a sports agency or agent. (When reviewing this regulation for this blog entry, I was left to wonder if the makeup of these panels is publicly available. Each institution must report its Professional Sports Counseling Panel members to the NCAA, so there exists a listing – but do they allow the public to review it?)
A contract can be offered to a student-athlete by a professional team, and once the student-athlete signs the contract (all it takes is his signature, not for the contract ot be signed by all parties involved), that student-athlete is no longer eligible for NCAA competition.
Let’s say a student-athlete has been drafted, but has not signed a contract and wishes to remain eligible for NCAA competition. Through sub-heading 12.2.2 “Practice without Competition”, a student-athlete may practice (such as in a NHL development camp) as long as they do not get paid for attending, and that they do not participate in any outside competition (for example, a scrimmage with another team.) This is how college hockey players can attend development camps many times during their collegiate career without losing their eligibility, as is going on this week with many NHL clubs.
So drafted colliegate hockey players like Colin Wilson are still elgible to play NCAA hockey until he signs a contract with an NHL organization. He can talk to the organization about a proposed contract, he can have a lawyer look at the contract, and he can attend Predators development camp without losing his NCAA eligibilty. Being a student-athlete and considering going professional is a delicate act, but one that if well-informed with the NCAA’s regulations, can be done.