October 19, 2011
Juniors deserve slice of the money pie
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
It's fitting the Canadian Hockey League announced a sponsorship agreement with a big bank this week.
Because it's time to pay its players.
There's no longer any reason to hide behind the facade of amateurism since the NCAA saw through that many moons ago. The time has come for the kids to be compensated for the entertainment, time and risk they invest into making the OHL, QMJHL and WHL the best pipeline of big-league hockey talent in the world.
Thirty years ago, it probably wasn't feasible for a lot of mom-and-pop team owners to pony up the dough and stay afloat.
But the junior hockey world today, as overseen by David Branch, is big business.
Most of its owners are wealthy and some teams are more profitable and valuable than clubs in the American Hockey League, and most certainly, the minor pros.
That old stipend of $50 a week to players is a joke in today's game.
The players don't just help their teams by scoring goals or preventing them. They are recruited to meet with fans, shill for sponsors, perform for scouts, speak to a hungrier media, visit school children and hospitals, submit to drug testing and forego potentially lucrative summer jobs so that they can pay personal trainers to get them ready for the upcoming season.
On the whim of one GM who needs one more power forward for a Memorial Cup run or another who wants a few more draft picks, they can be uprooted from school and shipped to another club to start over again.
They are also subject to career-ending injuries -- just like the pros, only minus the hefty paycheques.
Now, it can be argued the players get compensated for their services in a roundabout way when their agents negotiate scholarship packages with teams before setting foot on CHL ice.
But that's where the money becomes a shell game.
There are strings attached to that cash.
The pro dream can only be pursued for 18 months before the education dollars agreement is rescinded. There are some teams -- though the owners obviously won't admit to it publicly -- who pay the way for some former players to go to school because the clock had already struck midnight on their CHL deal.
There are residency limits on your scholarship. If you're a U.S. player, want to go to a program at Penn State and live in Ann Arbor, Mich., you're going to get tuition, books and fees for the closest institution (in that case, University of Michigan).
The OHL claims to ante up for all post-secondary schooling while their older players are still in the league. But with his hockey schedule, what skater has time for more than a course or two?
Then, there are players who simply won't be heading to school when they're done. That's their choice.
But say they played five years in the OHL? Shouldn't they have earned a little something for their sacrifices to put a down payment on a house?
The simple answer is to make the school money guaranteed.
Give a kid the scholarship maximum $7,600 for each full season played. If you're paying 25 guys, that's $190,000 per team, but more if you sign U.S. players. The league and owners can afford it.
If they can't, sell or slash the stick budget and go back to wood. That will put a dent in the expenses.
Cynics look at the more lucrative teams and say: "They've been paying star players for years. What would change?'
Well, prove it. Hire a forensic accountant. And if everyone's getting something, isn't that better than some kids getting nothing?
A couple of years ago at the Memorial Cup in Rimouski, a handful of star players on the host team zipped around town in cars with their names and numbers on them.
Some might look at that as a violation. Others might see great advertising.
For the players, it should be viewed as a nice place to start.