What we know about the potential for CHL players gaining NCAA eligibility

This article is presented by Everything College Hockey

For a minute there, it seemed like the world of developmental hockey might have been about to shift in a way that was previously inconceivable.

Over the past few weeks, word began to trickle out that the NCAA was considering a seismic policy change that would have granted players in the CHL eligibility to play college hockey effectively at any time they choose. It started as a report from College Hockey Insider's Mike McMahon, and exploded into a topic of discussion among hockey people on both sides of the border.

Now, just as quickly as the topic bubbled back to the surface in a serious way for the first time in years, it seems the idea is dead in the water once again.

The reasons why the topic came up, and why it was shot down only a few weeks later, are diverse, but we'll get into as many as possible in this article.

For decades, the rule has been that any player who played in the CHL was ineligible to play NCAA hockey on the grounds that the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL have numerous players who previously signed professional contracts and were then been sent back to their junior teams. In the eyes of the NCAA and its coaches, that effectively renders the CHL, at least in part, a professional league. In order to uphold the concept of "amateurism" in college athletics, that is a no-go for the NCAA.

That said, it must also be noted that if, at any point in recent history, college hockey coaches had wanted to make this change, they would have been able to at least start that process with the NCAA of their own volition. It's purely hypothetical, but it's also fair to say that this change hasn't been made simply because college coaches never wanted it to change badly enough, or in large enough numbers, to pursue it.

More recently, however, there has been a thaw in that attitude, for a number of reasons. In a few instances, players have been allowed eligibility to play NCAA hockey despite having spent time in major junior. The most notable of these is Austen Swankler, currently a player for Michigan Tech who previously played at Bowling Green State University as well as the Erie Otters of the OHL. After playing in the USHL, Swankler jumped to major junior and played a full season, but the next year was wiped out by COVID and he didn't play at all. Then, he tried his luck with the NCAA, and thanks to a clerical error, was granted eligibility. Several years earlier, Brayden Gelsinger, who played 14 games in the WHL before a three-year BCHL career was granted eligibility, also through an oversight, then played four years at Lake Superior State. You might have called those exceptions, until recently, but now some may also point to them as cracks in a dam that could eventually break.

But apart from mistakes on the NCAA's part, if any player got into even a single game in the CHL at any point in the past, they were and are ineligible for college hockey. Scuttlebutt in the last 10 to 15 days suggested that may change in the near future, but more recently reports have emerged that it's not even close to a sure thing. Or at least, as sure a thing as previous reports made it sound.

In the following article, we tried to collect as many opinions as possible from people whose jobs would be touched by this issue, and present the diversity of their views, no matter how much or little it aligned with what others had to say. The fact is, no one knows anything about how any of this might unfold right now, so it's important to take as many eventualities as possible into consideration. Especially because, with each conversation, someone invariably brought up an argument or potential effect of such a rule change that hadn't previously been mentioned.

So here's what we know right now:

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NCAA CHL NCAA WHL QMJHL OHL Macklin Celebrini Adam Fantilli Owen Power
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