There is a battle brewing between a few teams over the services of one particular pay-to-play prospect for next season. One team has the player protected (after playing ten games this year as a fill-in) within a league and the other team has been able to attract his attention.
If we were talking about grocery stores, there would not be a problem. The customer has the right to choose between one store and the other. That decision is based on a number of factors. This includes, price, value, and, experience.
Pay-to-play prospects are all essentially customers. For some programs, the player fee provides 100% of the team's operating budget. Other teams have been able to offset that budget with income from a variety of sources. Because of the wide spectrum of financial situations among the teams, the level of amenities and customer service can also become extremely varied.
There are a limited number of roster spots available for each team. Teams that do things the right way never struggle for players, just like the store that provides excellent customer service. Other teams generally have issues trying to find players and try to attract them with an association with the teams that do operate the right way. This is either another team in the same league or even an affiliation agreement. COVID has filled every roster spot this season, and for good reason. But it also means that weaker operators have a bit of a hold on players they would otherwise never have a chance at.
It is time to fix the system. I understand protected lists, drafts, tenders, and the development of younger players. That is great for major juniors, Tier I, and Tier II. Who are we kidding by doing the same thing for pay-to-play leagues? Sincerely, how many of these kids are going to play in the NHL? Let's take that one step further, how many of these kids are going to be able to get a free ride to college based purely on hockey?
Pay-to-play junior hockey should be left wide open. Like the NCAA, or even the ACHA, teams should be forced into actually recruiting players. Pay-to-play teams will have to actually deliver a decent product, experience, and player exposure.
Something else that has been bothering me is league policies that force teams into a minimum fee. Seriously? If I win the lottery and decide to dump $1.5M a year on a new team, I should be able to recruit an entire team of players with proven financial hardships.
Rent is not cheap. Little Johnny and his dad simply do not get along, and now that Johnny is eighteen, he is entirely one his own. Little Johnny does not have the $10,000 needed to play on my team, so I have him prove his financial hardship and move him into the guest house with the other sixteen poor kids on the team. They have to keep up with the gardener, shovel the driveway when it snows (lots of that here in Florida), and clean up after themselves.
Maybe my team is in Minnesota, Idaho, or even Miami. How many eighteen year-olds do not suffer from a financial hardship?
The junior council and leagues do not make such a huge deal out of this to protect the player's NCAA eligibility; they do it to keep the rich guys from buying a championship team. In reality, the NCAA could not care less.
If a team can cover an entire budget without a player fee, why in the heck would we not let them? Because that would not be fair to the other teams?
I want to see a system where players get the best deal they can, and teams are allowed to do the best that they can for the players. It is true; there is a big difference between the Universities of Florida and Kentucky. Sure both schools are in the same league, but their programs are on two separate planets. Teams that want to compete with the Gators need to step up, improve amenities, and win players based on the reputation of the program.
Pay-to-play junior hockey should operate the same way.
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