Given the unknown status of college sports this fall due to Coronavirus, the NCAA has decided to afford athletes the opportunity to play away from their college teams while remaining enrolled in classes. As USCHO details, outside competition will prove especially valuable to college hockey players. Pending school and conference approval, players will be allowed to compete for junior teams this season if their college seasons are postponed.
While a number of athletic conferences have delayed or cancelled “fall sports”, only the Ivy League has cancelled all sports for the fall semester. While the conference itself does not sponsor hockey, a number of its members play in the ECAC. They include Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and Princeton. Depending on the state of COVID-19, other schools or conferences could end up postponing or cancelling competition this fall as well. It also stands to reason that this exception will be extended to the spring semester if the 2020-21 season is cancelled altogether by conferences or the NCAA.
In order for athletes to take part in outside competition this fall, there are some requirements. First and foremost, the schools cannot cover any expenses incurred by the athlete as a result of taking part in junior competition. The athletes must also be in good academic standing and enrolled in classes. Finally, no class time can be missed due to practice or competition with outside teams. Seeing as the vast majority of players who would be taking advantage of this opportunity would not also be able to be taking in-person classes, the class time rule would only apply to online classes with specific meeting times.
One thing that is not changing is that NCAA athletes may not take part in CHL competition. The OHL, WHL, and QMJHL are considered pro leagues under the NCAA’s definition of “amateurism” and anyone playing in these league’s forfeits their NCAA eligibility. The same can be said for European pro leagues. This outside competition exception is likely to impact the USHL more than any other junior league. However, the Canadian Junior-A leagues and European junior leagues could also see an influx of talent, especially for those foreign athletes with immigration issues who are choosing to stay home this semester.
One way or another, this is a win-win for the game of hockey. College athletes are given added flexibility that will allow them to play, junior leagues will receive a boost in talent, and NHL teams will get a full season of scouting for those prospects who otherwise might have been sitting out this fall.