HOUGHTON - There has long been a "gentleman's agreement" in hockey regarding recruiting.
While players cannot officially commit to a college until November of their senior year of high school when they sign a National Letter of Intent, any player known to have given a "verbal commitment" - a non-binding pact - was considered off-limits to other coaches to continue recruiting.
But there is a problem with unwritten rules. They are not written. As such, there is no actual enforcement other than your basic peer pressure. If being honest, it is likely most coaches in college hockey would admit to suspecting tampering with a player verbally committed to their team at one time or another. And this just takes into account one of the other 58 Division I programs, not even the Canadian Major Junior teams who do not adhere to any gentlemen's agreement. Verbal commits change their mind all the time, for one reason or another.
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said he and his staff will abide by the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ prevalent in college hockey by which teams will not continue to recruit a player who has given a verbal commitment to another school. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
It is amidst these circumstances that Minnesota's Don Lucia, Wisconsin's Mike Eaves and Boston College's Jerry York announced at the American Hockey Coaches Association convention in May that they would no longer be following the verbal commitment tradition. Until a player is officially signed, they said, he is fair game.
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson respects the honesty Lucia, Eaves and York displayed and he appreciates the candidness.
But he doesn't agree with the assessment.
So under Pearson, the gentlemen's agreement will continue as policy at Tech.
"I respect Don and Mike for their opinions on that. They are telling you upfront how they are going to go about it," Pearson said. "But from my perspective, I'm not going to call a kid who has verbally committed. We believe that your word should be good. Once we give a kid our word, we are not going back. And we hope the player feels the same way."
The division could lead to some potentially ugly situations in college hockey.
With some schools sticking to the traditional line and others following only the rules that are written down, there is the potential for heated disagreements in the future.
How will Pearson feel if a player verbally committed to Tech is still being sought after?
"I hope it won't happen but at the same time I know it is going to happen and it has happened," Pearson said. "We have to trust the young men who we are recruiting. We want someone who wants to be at Michigan Tech.
"Would it bother me? Maybe a little bit. But we just have to deal with the situation. It is out there and it is going to happen."
Pearson believes he has a solution for the AHCA to consider next year.
Move the signing day for a NLI up a year - to November of a recruit's junior season - to make the commitment official.
"It would be better if it was official earlier," Pearson said. "Many players are making their decision then anyways. It would be better for the players as well as the school. I would like to see that discussed."