NCAA Suspends Opt-In Rule

Currently-enrolled college hockey players who decide to “opt in” to the NHL Draft will no longer be penalized with the loss of NCAA eligibility, at least for one year.

The NCAA has granted a one-year suspension of the rule, with the intention of fully reviewing the case in the near future.

This will allow all 18-year olds currently playing college hockey to opt in to this June’s draft without losing eligibility. This affects 12 current players, including Rookie of the Year T.J. Hensick (Michigan) and All-USCHO Rookie Team members Drew Stafford (North Dakota) and A.J. Thelen (Michigan State).

To be eligibile for the NHL Draft, you must be 19 by the Sept. 15 cutoff of that draft year. You can also be eligible for the draft as an 18-year old if you “opt in.” Most major junior players just opt in as a matter of course. However, the NCAA, since 1995, has ruled that the process of opting in makes you ineligible for college hockey — even though 19-year old college players can be drafted with no loss of eligibility.

This originally affected all college-bound 18-year olds. But, two years ago, the NCAA passed its pre-enrollment Amateurism Deregulation legislation, which eliminated the provision and allowed incoming freshmen to maintain their eligibility even if they opted in. That’s because, the NCAA ruled, they opted in before they were enrolled in school.

The original intention of the Amateurism Deregulation package was to eventually extend it affect currently-enrolled student athletes as well. But such a package is still nowhere near fruition.

The opt-in issue reared its head most significantly when Boston University’s Rick DiPietro — with a Sept. 19 birthday — was considered 18 years old during the 2000 draft that followed his freshman year. DiPietro was certain to be a high draft pick, and thus — because he missed the cutoff by four days — had to make a choice between staying in school and entering the draft. He chose the draft, left BU, and was taken No. 1 overall by the New York Islanders, the first goaltender ever selected with the top pick.