Tuesday, May 13, 2008

WCHA Coaches Catfight Over Verbal Commitments

(left) George Gwozdecky & Gophers Coach Don Lucia don't see eye to eye on the issue of verbal commitments

From: Grand Forks Herald
by Brad Schlossman

There was a time not long ago when a player would verbally commit to a college hockey program, and soon after he would be pressured by other coaches to rethink it.

“Yeah that happened. Absolutely. I’d just have to go back as far as Zach Parise,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said, referring to the former UND player who played from 2002-04.

And there are some coaches who believe those days may return.

At the American Hockey Coaches Association meetings last week in Florida, a small group of coaches pushed eliminate the “gentleman’s agreement” that was put in place a few years ago.

The gentleman’s agreement is that coaches will stop contacting a player once he makes a verbal commitment. This agreement is not bound by NCAA rules — coaches are technically allowed to recruit until a player signs a letter of intent, which can’t happen until an athlete is a high school senior.

But in the last four years, recruiting has become younger and younger. A handful of 14-year-olds have made verbal commitments. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds committing is the new norm. And this trend is a concern to almost all coaches.

Some believe the way to curtail the current trend is to ignore verbal commitments. Others feel that recruiting committed players would lead college hockey down the wrong path.

While it appears that the gentlemen’s agreement will remain in place this year, it might not stay that way for long.

“It’s kind of a mess right now,” Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Bruce McLeod said. “It’s a highly debated topic. Emotions are pretty strong about it.”

Minnesota’s Don Lucia is one coach who has publicly stated that he wants to do away with verbal commitments.

“And he’s got a few allies,” McLeod said. “It’s not a majority. But the problem is that the three or four guys talking about (recruiting committed players) are the leaders, the more veteran coaches. That’s what has caused a commotion more than anything.”

Lucia said that some Hockey East schools pushed a new gentleman’s agreement that would allow schools to contact verbally committed players until May 1 of their junior year. The thinking is that the recruiting age would go back up under this type of system.

“The whole issue here is ninth- and 10th-graders,” Lucia said. “What’s going on right now is not good for the players, colleges or anybody. It shouldn’t be a race to see who can first discover and get a ninth-grader.”

Gwozdecky, the most veteran coach in the WCHA, is on the other side of the issue. He says he’d hate to see the day when coaches are recruiting committed players.

“I don’t want our sport to become like basketball or football,” Gwozdecky said, “where once a young man decides to verbally commit, that’s when the recruiting starts. I strongly feel that once a young man and a school have made a verbal agreement. . . . that is recognized by me as something that is an obligation both parties have to respect.”

UND coach Dave Hakstol says there were very good talks on the subject, but he’d like for the gentleman’s agreement to remain in place for now.

“It’s been something that’s unique to the hockey world,” Hakstol said. “I think it’s served us well. Are there ways to change it and make it better while still honoring the verbal commitment? I think that’s something we’ll talk about over the next year or two.”

There were two incidents in the past season where a coach contacted a committed player and asked if the athlete was content with his commitment, McLeod said.

“Both young men were true to their word,” McLeod said. “It was one phone call, that’s it. And it’s not like they were sneaking around. I know in one case, for sure, the coach called the other coach in advance and told him he was going to do it.”

That might be the norm in a few years.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen right now,” Lucia said, “but we’re not far away from it. I think we’ll be able to make some type of compromise.”

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