Tuesday, March 07, 2006

It seems that every year, some young columnist tries to make a name for himself by writing an article about how hockey doesn’t deserve to sit at the “cool table” of American sports with the popular clique of football, basketball, and baseball because it is nothing but a bunch of big, brutish thugs skating around trying to hit each other. This year it was a young columnist from UCLA that chose to take a momentary lapse of judgment in a club hockey game and turn it into a condemnation of the entire sport.

Moreover, the sport of hockey suffers from their fair share of critics within the sport. There are people who justifiably squirm at the idea of throwing thousands of dollars worth of scholarship money at 14 year old kids or 13 year old kids moving 2000 miles across the country for the sole purpose of playing for a better travel hockey program.

The sport of hockey and their system of developing players didn’t look so bad this past week, however, when the NCAA released their figures for last year’s Academic Progress Rate. While other major sports like football, basketball, and baseball had many teams that only avoided NCAA penalties thanks to leniency granted by the NCAA due to the small sample size of the numbers, college hockey only had two schools that fell just below the mark. The top ten percent of schools in college hockey all had a perfect 1000 APR rating.

So why exactly are a bunch of maladjusted brutish thugs doing so well in college while the cool kids in the Big Three of American Sports struggling?

Hockey is such a small sport, with only 58 Division I teams. It certainly helps when about 10% of the schools playing hockey are Ivy League schools, not to mention schools with outstanding academic reputations like Colordao College, Rensselaer, Clarkson, and Michigan Tech.

I also think that the way players are developed plays a big role in things. I know that not there weren't too many football and basketball teams that received penalties, but I noticed there were quite a few that avoided punishment thanks to the squad-size adjustment.

The difference is that I think more football and basketball players are a little more used to receiving "star treatment" growing up. Everyone in town seems to know the big football or basketball star since they usually star for the local high school team. Hockey players usually grow up playing on independent traveling teams that get very little local recognition. Obviously there are plenty of exceptions both ways, but I think overall, that creates a difference in attitude for those sports.

On a similiar note, most hockey players spend at least part of their high school years playing in a junior league where their academic is monitored by their team. Meanwhile, I think there is the tendency to let top football or basketball players slide in high school and get away with not doing as much work.

The other advantage that hockey has over other sports is that players have other options besides just going to college. Most top hockey players have the option of choosing to play in the NCAA or going to Canada and playing in one of their major junior leagues. This gives less serious students the opportunity to play hockey with less academic focus. Players can also play in junior leagues for up to two years past high school. This gives players the opportunity to mature a little more and give them a little more academic focus. A 20 year old freshmen is much more likely to be considering his future and be a serious student than an 18 year old freshmen.

This is something that is missing in most other sports. It especially gets talked about with basketball. Struggling students often get forced into college athletics when they're not ready or not interested because they have no other options.

So it seems that the hockey system and culture that people are often afraid of is working incredibly well. Hockey players seem to be coming to college more ready to handle the difficult balance of competing on the ice as well as succeeding in the classroom. There is a heavy load placed on their shoulders, and they’re doing an excellent job carrying it. But then again, isn’t that what big, brutish thugs do best?


Post a Comment

<< Home