When you're talking about the junior leagues, most of the talk surrounds the Canadian Hockey League (CHL; composed of the QMJHL, OHL, WHL), the United States Hockey League (USHL), and the North American Hockey League (NAHL). If you aren't already turned off by the slew of corporate-speak acronyms, just know that these are the juniors, and they play by their own rules.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), on the other hand, is governed by a plethora of limitations when it comes to recruiting. Their goal is to promote the value of education in combination with athletics, and are therefore led by a stringent set of rules which keep hockey players doing their homework, instead of giving up on because of major league hopes.
So, the questions rises: to go college or go pro? Read more after the jump.
NCAA recruiting rules are as follows (via USHL):
1. Recruiting Materials: Only questionnaires can be sent out. No recruiting brochures or recruiting information may be sent to an athlete.
2. Telephone Calls: College coaches can not call grade 10 students. Athletes may call coaches but in order to speak to a coach you must reach him. If a student leaves a message the coach can not call him back. Therefore, if a student is interested in a school, he needs to continually call until he reaches the coach.Non-American student may receive 1 phone call in July once he has finished his grade 10 year.
3. Off Campus Visits: NCAA coaches are not allowed to visit a student off campus in his sophomore year. Therefore, if a CHL scout and a NCAA coach are watching the same grade 10 athlete the CHL coach can speak with him in the arena after his game while the NCAA coach can not.
4. Official Campus Visits: NCAA schools are not allowed to invite a student to their campus and pay for the trip as an "official visit".
5. Unofficial Visits: Students, at their expense, may make an unlimited amount of "unofficial visits" to the Universities they are interested.
From a high level, the NCAA isn't really allowed to contact (more than "hello") the player until they've finished the grade 11 school year year (US junior year). The player, on the other hand can "unofficially" visit the prospective universities as much as they like.
Past the recruiting phase, an NCAA recruit gets the benefit of education plus professional status. To be eligible, the recruit must graduate from high school, complete a core curriculum, and have a qualifying SAT/ACT score. These requirements are of course supplemental to the school's own requirements.
Those are the rules, but what's the result? Interestingly enough, what we've seen so far is a surge of talent opting for the NCAA, in pursuit of a college degree. Adam Wodon of College Hockey writes:
There's a high-pitched battle going on for talent with the Canadian Major Junior leagues. For a long time, it was not an issue. Then, through the 1990s and beyond, more and more elite players began going to U.S. colleges. In response, the Major Junior leagues changed many rules to make it more attractive for U.S. and Canadian players to head north of the border. Because of NCAA restrictions, college hockey has often been powerless to respond.
The result of this trend is a major divide between the college leagues and the CHL. And competition has struck, as the CHL leagues are starting to offer education benefits as well. The OHL offers a post-secondary compensation program: a year of hockey for a year of school--unless, of course, you actually go pro. In that case you lose it all (The Record).
Because of this the NCAA has struck back, now mandating that once players are drafted to the CHL (perhaps at age 14 or 15), they automatically lose amateur status and are ineligible to return to college hockey (Play College Hockey).
The choice between college or professional is a gamble, and obviously has a thousand variables.