The chain of events that took the speedy, talented 18-year-old forward to the Western Hockey League began when he attended a Giants camp at age 15. The Giants wanted him, but Nunn wanted to go the college route. The team asked if Nunn would ease their minds by signing a letter of intent, just in case, adding they would not send the letter into the league. Somehow, however, the letter made its way into officialdom and the NCAA found it.
A few other bloggers have already weighed in on this story. Marc Foster of the Junior Hockey Blog felt like Nunn was conned and that the NCAA was also to blame, while Ontario-native Neate Sager felt this story exposed an ugly side to junior hockey. Both bring up some excellent points.
Personally, I think there is plenty of blame to go around to all parties in this situation. I hate to pick on a single so much, but I think it's an interesting parable about the world of junior hockey and decision between the NCAA and CHL.
We'll start with Vancouver. Was there any good reason for trying to get Nunn to sign that piece of paper other than messing with his NCAA eligibility, and thus funneling him towards the CHL? In one respect, they are a business, and you can't blame them for trying to do what is in the best interest of their business. At the same time, Nunn was a 15 year-old kid, and as Sager points out, they didn't really have his best interests at heart. Nunn was lucky that the signed agreement only cost him a year of eligibility instead of all of his eligibility, but a number of schools stopped recruiting him when they found out about his situation. He was lucky enough to get a scholarship from Mankato, but he very easily could have been without any NCAA eligibility. And what would have happened to him if he hadn't developed as Vancouver hoped, or got injured and couldn't play? The Giants had no real commitment to him. Instead of being able to try and earn a scholarship as an over-ager in junior hockey, he would have been left out in the cold.
The NCAA doesn't come out looking great in this either. As Foster pointed, it seems foolish to hold someone to a contract they signed as a 15 year old. It's especially frustrating given the fact that there has been talk in the NCAA of banning family advisors. There are plenty of negative stories about family advisors out there, but for the most part, I think it's something that is completely necessary. For most players, and their families, the development process is sort of a learn-as-you-go type of thing. The NCAA has so many different rules about what constitutes an "amateur" that it's impossible for a layperson, especially one living in Canada and not as familiar with the NCAA, to decipher. If the NCAA insists on handing out such tough penalties for mistakes made by young kids and their uninformed families, I think it's absolutely imperative that they allow these kids to seek out representation that can explain the consequences and repercussions of what they're doing. The article makes it pretty clear that Nunn wanted to keep his college options open, and I think it's unlikely he would have signed that agreement had someone fully explained what signing that would cost him.
The same is true with verbal commitments. There was an effort to eliminate verbal commitments at last summer's coaches meeting(though I don't think it got very far). But it's logically inconsistent for the NCAA to say that they are against the idea of a kid choosing a college at such a young age, but at the same time, force them to make such a life-changing decision at such a young age.
And finally, there is Nunn. I don't necessarily blame him for his decision, but I do have to question it a little bit. He said it was having to sit out a year that changed his mind, but this certainly wasn't a new development. It was reported here back in July, and I'm sure both MSU and Nunn were aware of the situation well before that. He probably shouldn't have waited until less than 12 months before going to MSU to back out of his commitment.
MSU also gave Nunn the option of joining their team this year, so that he could start playing next year. I'm sure the argument to that is, "But this is Nunn's draft year! He couldn't have sat out this year." Perhaps, but whose to say that Nunn couldn't have come to MSU a year early. Practiced with the team and worked out a lot, improving his strength and toughness, the two areas he needed to improve most, had a fabulous year in his second year at MSU, and gotten drafted in his last year of draft eligibility? It's not that far-fetched, especially since it almost perfectly describes MSU forward Jon Kalinski.
Nunn is also giving up a fair amount in terms of education. I know people like to bring up the CHL's education package, but Nunn will play at most, two and a half years in the CHL, meaning he'll only get three years of schooling covered, as opposed to the four years he would have had in the NCAA.
And of course, there's always the point that his educational package becomes void if he signs an NHL or AHL contract. That means a player in Nunn's position will likely have to choose at some point between trying to make it in professional hockey, and going to school. It's nice that the CHL provides him with that option, but why choose when the NCAA offers both an education and a shot at pro hockey.
And as I mentioned last week, the NCAA route gives a player of Nunn's stature a much better shot at reaching the NHL. The reasoning is fairly simple. A player that size is much more ready for pro hockey at an older age. Nunn's will age out of the WHL after the 2009-2010 season. Had he gone to college, he wouldn't have had to start his pro career until after the 2011-2012 season. That's an extra two years to work on getting stronger and getting ready for the pro game.
All in all, I'd say nobody came out of this situation looking particularly good. There's no real easy answers to some of the problems raised, but there has to be some sort of an answer.