Some say rules are meant to be broken, in the case of the Bismarck Bobcats and Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League, the rules were open to interpretation.
The Bobcats have been forcing players to pay for their training program that includes use of a fitness center. This practice has been going on for years.
The Wings have taken the deed one step further. Aberdeen has a trade-out relationship with the Aberdeen YMCA that allows the players to utilize their facility in exchange for advertising properties provided by the team, according to a source within the YMCA. Despite that arrangement, the team has turned around and charged the players $300 for the season. Players that have been traded to other teams have made attempts to get that money refunded, only to be ignored by the Wings.
The NAHL Board of Governors President, Bill McCoshen, a person that should have a firm grasp on the rules, is also missing the boat in regards to a clear understanding of the criteria set for the Tier II level of play.
What rules are we talking about here?
A minimum of six (6) hours of practice per week shall be regularly scheduled throughout the playing season and the team shall provide for an off-ice training program and facilities. Each team shall conduct a preseason training camp. Each team shall provide facilities for off-ice training.
The argument comes down to simple terminology. What does Shall Provide really mean? McCoshen is under the impression that it means to provide access, but not necessarily pay for.
"Steve, I assure you the term shall is not a directive. That term would need to be followed by, at the teams expense, to mean what you say it means," McCoshen said last week. "I don't want to embarrass you, but check with any lawyer and they will tell you I am right."
McCoshen's argument does not hold much water when looking at the section that addresses player costs.
E. Player Support
(1) Compensation From Players
No league or member team shall pay more than reasonable and necessary expenses for travel, meals, and lodging while on team trips. Further, no league or member team shall collect any dollars from a player as a contribution toward the team budget and/or expenses that are incurred by the team in participating in league competition. To clarify, this would include any and all expenses of every kind or nature incurred in connection with any competition during exhibition, regular season, play-offs, and/or other post-season/all-star competition. Upon receipt of any financial complaints, USA Hockey shall conduct an audit of the player's account with the team to verify or dispute the complaint. Violation of the limits set forth herein shall subject the offending team and league to disciplinary action.
NAHL officials have known about the Bobcats charges for two seasons and the team's communications director, Paul Teeple, has even defended it, explaining that is was an added value to the program. Regardless of what Teeple and the Bobcats want to call it, doing so is a direct violation of the Tier II criteria.
In regards to Aberdeen...monkey see monkey do. I clearly informed both clubs that an article detailing the violations would be published today if they had not refunded all of the money back to the players by Tuesday.
Needless to say, we are where we are.
Instead of writing refund checks to the players, the Bobcats addressed the situation Tuesday in the dressing room and pointed the finger at one player as the source of my information. Shortly afterwards many of the players' parents were calling and wondering if they should simply pull the players before this weekend's play-off games. The parents are afraid of additional retaliation by the team.
Is this the culture of the NAHL? In October, we informed Frankenfeld in regards to a similar situation in Chicago when the team decided to force players into purchasing equipment. Instead of addressing the issue, the league simply said that I should mind my own business and that players would have to file a complaint.
Today, the Bobcats singles out a single player as a source, a player I have never talked to. One would think that it would be much easier to simply follow the rules.
What should the NAHL do? The right thing to do is force both teams to refund 100% of the money to the players. For Bismarck, they need to go all the way back to the first season they pulled this crap. Aberdeen needs to go back to last season as well.
How much money are we talking about here? Roughly $7,500 per season per team. The team's refusal to refund should be met with an immediate suspension of both teams NAHL memberships and the players should all be reimbursed out of the $150,000 performance bond that is issued for both teams.
"The league needs to address the issue first before we can get involved," USA Hockey's John Vanbiesbrouck said on Tuesday. "Obviously the issue is interpretation. The NAHL agreed to the criteria when it was created, so the teams should have brought any questions to the league in regards to clarification."
The bottom line is simple, give the money back or face further embarrassment. This issue will quickly go away by doing the right thing. If the teams continue to debate this, the argument will get before the junior council and I can promise that it will take a freight train to pull that many boots out of the NAHL's backside for letting things get that far.
What do you think?
Link to USA Hockey
Attention all North American Hockey League players and parents that have been forced to contribute any money to a team beyond the billet fee. Please report all such non-refunded payments to me directly and I will forward the information onto the league and USA Hockey officials.