Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dartmouth Loses Hockey Recruit to Wisconsin, Outrage Ensues

One of the great debates in college sports continues. It doesn't seem likely it will end anytime soon.

What should happen once a player makes a verbal commitment to attend a school and play a sport? Should that player become off-limits to other colleges, or should he still be fair game until he either signs a binding letter of intent or starts class (LOIs don't apply to schools that don't hand out scholarships)?

It's an issue that has plenty of supporters for both sides. Most recently, fans of Dartmouth and Wisconsin hockey have seen their teams thrown in the middle of the issue.

Word got out Wednesday that Matt Lindblad, a forward who had committed to play hockey at Dartmouth, was changing his mind and going to Wisconsin instead. It's a touchy subject here, if only because Dartmouth doesn't do scholarships, and therefore never had a chance to sign Lindblad during a time where other recruits are signing to go to the college of their choice.

For WCHA teams, the issue is even more interesting. The league operates under what is termed a gentleman's agreement. The agreement between WCHA schools is that they won't go after the committed players of conference rivals. It's not always followed (COUGHnatehagemomichaeldorrCOUGH), but it has generally stood the test of time.

Obviously, WCHA coaches see some inherent value in the practice of leaving other teams' recruits alone.

So why doesn't that respect extend to other Division I institutions?

The poaching isn't illegal. It isn't against NCAA rules.

Doesn't make it right.

Ask any longtime Badger fan how s/he felt when Minnesota stole UW recruit Nate Hagemo or when Denver took Patrick Wiercioch away from Madison, and you'll probably get a reaction that can't be fully reprinted on this site. If it wasn't okay for Minnesota to sweep Hagemo off his feet, or for Gwoz to steal Wiercioch, why would it be kosher for Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves to do the same to Lindblad?

(We're operating here under the assumption that Lindblad was approached by UW. Obviously, the opposite may be true, and I fully acknowledge that I don't know who asked who to dance. That doesn't change the fact that this issue exists in college sports, and it's a worthy discussion to have.)

The reality is that you have two strong schools of thought. One is that these coaches are operating in a highly competitive field. They're not quite thief-like, but there is still little honor among them because they're all trying to win the same prize and keep their jobs.

On the other hand, there should be some expectation of honor. Everyone works hard to recruit the best players they can find. The rules are the same for everyone in terms of how they can go about contacting players and how often they can harass call them. In this case, Dartmouth won the battle. They got the commitment.

The fact that they don't award scholarships or sign players to letters of intent is not something that should be open for someone else to take advantage of. Had Lindblad committed to, say, Michigan, this wouldn't be happening because he would have signed to play for the Wolverines more than six months ago.

Basically, Eaves took advantage of Dartmouth's rules governing athletics, and its standing as an Ivy League school, to grab an important recruit for the 2010-11 class. He has to replace eight forwards off last year's team, including Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion and top playmaker Derek Stepan, and Stepan's loss wasn't expected.

That left the coach in scramble mode, and he did something that's been done to him by WCHA rivals twice.

In this observer's opinion, it just isn't right. If a player's commitment didn't matter, we wouldn't have players committing. And if it didn't matter, the WCHA wouldn't operate under a gentleman's agreement.

Not only that, but most fans hate this type of thing when it happens to them, and two wrongs don't make a right.

What say you?


Anonymous said...

Eaves wouldn't be in the situation of not having enough players if he hadn't pushed Hickey and Bardis to leave,delayed Montpetit,and kicked Thurber off the team. He pushes recruiting rules to the limit. Robbie Earl was his first example of recruit tampering, when he got him to decommit to Mich. no letter of intent but still a committment.

vizoroo said...

Patrick Wiercioch contacted DU after Eaves had told him he wouldn't be playing for UW for another year. And Gwoz contacted Eaves before any serious discussion occured.

Goon said...

We are walking into a gray area that is borderline unethical.