University of Calgary Dinos Iya Gavrilova (middle) is checked by University of Alberta Pandas Andrea Boras (right) in front on Pandas goalie Kaitlyn Chapman (left) during a game in Edmonton on Saturday March 10, 2012.
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - Tired of watching a steady parade of our best young women hockey players enticed south of the border by generous scholarships, schools under the Canadian Interuniversity Sport banner are going to open their wallets to keep the best players in Canada.
Beginning in 2014, CIS schools will be permitted to offer scholarships that cover expenses like room and board and books, not just tuition fees, to which scholarships have been restricted up to now.
The CIS schools also passed the ‘eligibility repatriation rule,’ meaning athletes already on scholarship at an NCAA school could return to Canada and compete right away, rather than sit out a year, as was the case under the previous rule.
The loosening of restrictions for women’s hockey players is part of a five-year pilot project that has been driven by University of Alberta athletic director Ian Reade, who organized a women’s hockey summit in March 2012 to address how to raise the competitive bar for the sport among CIS schools.
The project is one element of a larger vision to raise the competitive level across a broad menu of sports at CIS schools, not just women’s hockey.
That sport was chosen because, while the talent leakage is extreme, Reade and others in the CIS like their chances of reversing the talent drain, given the resources to compete.
Have the U of A Pandas hockey team lost players to U.S. schools, head coach Howie Draper was asked.
“Oh, God, yeah,” Draper said. “The top players right now continue to go down to the States.
“By instituting these new regulations, maybe that will help ebb that flow a little bit. If we keep some of these high-calibre players in the CIS, then maybe that will act as the initial dominoes that will drop the rest.
“Right now, the majority of the top players are going down to the U.S. not so much because it’s a money thing, although that’s a big part of it. But I think one of the biggest things is that right now, that’s where all the best players are.”
Reversing the flow will take time, not just money, although there’s little question the increased scholarship freedom will help.
At many NCAA schools, Canadians comprise anywhere from one-quarter to half of women’s hockey team rosters, Reade said. At Ivy League schools, such as Clarkson (95 per cent Canadian female hockey players), Cornell (67 per cent) and Dartmouth College (70 per cent), the numbers are even higher.
Reade said on Canada’s under-22 women’s national development team, one player on the 22-woman roster was a product of a CIS school.
The pilot project will monitor the 11 U20 provincial teams (there are two in Ontario) over the next five years to see how many of those approximately 220 players choose to accept scholarships in Canada rather than go to U.S. schools.
Reade said the CIS will track the educational choices of those athletes to measure whether the pilot project is successful. The hope is to make the scholarship option a permanent one, not merely a five-year experiment.
Now, having the freedom to award scholarships is one thing; finding the resources to spend the money, quite another.
Reade said the U of A Pandas awarded $32,000 in scholarship money last season, well below the “salary cap” permitted under CIS regulations (70 per cent of the tuition expense for the 26-player roster).
Varsity athletes at Alberta universities also are eligible for provincial bursaries (about $1,800), but that money does not count against the ‘cap.’
There are other areas where Canadian schools are perceived to be at a competitive disadvantage compared to their U.S. counterparts. Few Canadian schools, if any, have paid assistant coaches, for one thing.
But being able to offer parity in terms of financial support to student-athletes could be a major step forward for the Canadian schools. “If we could raise the money, we could give a lot more and we’re going to try to raise the money,” Reade said. “Because now we have a legitimate shot to walk up to the very best female hockey player in Edmonton and say, ‘You know what, there’s nothing you can get down there that you can’t get right here.
“We have a little bit of skin in the game now. We have a chance.”
Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox
© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal