Brad Traviolia: Modest proposal will improve college hockey’s recruiting environment

The Big Ten made waves when it introduced a proposal to reduce delayed enrollment in college hockey (photo: Larry Radloff).

Since moving into my role with Big Ten hockey this past summer, I have spent much of my time listening to coaches, school administrators and conference commissioners from across the country discuss the current state of college hockey. Many conversations have included feedback on the Big Ten’s proposal to more closely align the age range of students playing hockey with the traditional college sports timeline and to make more opportunities available to students who want to enroll within two years of their high school graduation.

As it currently exists, the NCAA delayed enrollment rule creates a situation where 17- and 18-year-olds routinely compete against 24- and 25-year-olds. This occurs because players can maintain four years of eligibility by enrolling as a full-time student at a collegiate institution prior to their 21st birthday and then transferring to a school that sponsors hockey to begin competition as a 21-year-old freshman the following fall.

The result is that the average age of incoming freshmen continues to rise, with more than two-thirds of the 2015-16 freshman class having reached their 20th birthday before playing a single collegiate game. Such a wide age range of participants does not exist at any other amateur level in the sport of hockey, nor does it exist in any other NCAA sport except for skiing.

Delayed enrollment is rarely a choice made by a student for academic purposes, but instead occurs at the direction of an institution for purely competitive reasons. A player becomes a 21-year-old freshman not because he was recruited at that age, but often because a school has locked him in with a verbal commitment while he was still in high school and then delayed his college enrollment by up to three years. This creates a situation where students who want to enroll at an institution and begin their collegiate career often have little control over their own timeline, with no option but to play junior hockey until they are given an opportunity to advance and compete collegiately.

The justification for the current delayed enrollment rule is to improve academic and physical maturity and in turn promote competitive balance. In reality, the Big Ten proposal would not significantly change which students play college hockey, but would merely encourage these same students to enroll in college at a younger age, reducing the delay in their educational progression towards a degree. It would also address the circular argument that many 18- and 19-year-olds are not physically ready to compete in college hockey because other players are so much older. Our proposal would reduce the need for delayed enrollment of incoming students by slightly reducing the age of players overall.

Moreover, our proposal represents a compromise that seeks to balance the historic role that junior hockey has played in the development of athletes with the traditional collegiate timeline that exists in every other sport. Future students would still have the ability to play two years of junior hockey after high school graduation while retaining all four years of NCAA eligibility and hockey would still have the least restrictive rule of any sport other than skiing.

While we agree that sports with a relatively low number of Division I programs should be allowed special accommodations to preserve, and potentially grow, overall sponsorship, we do not believe that the recruitment and delayed enrollment system that has evolved within college hockey is in the best interest of the game or its participants. It is an unsustainable system and, if left to the natural competitive instincts of hockey-playing institutions, will eventually consist entirely of players between the ages of 21 and 25.

Taking a step back, the NCAA and its member institutions have taken great strides over the past few years to create a better collegiate experience for all students who participate in varsity athletics. Cost of attendance stipends, four-year scholarships and increased insurance benefits are just a few examples of new and/or improved benefits being created for future students. Providing future college hockey players the ability to have more control over their academic and athletic careers is a positive step in this same direction and is entirely consistent with current NCAA priorities.

We all want to see college hockey continue to grow in terms of academic achievement, institutional sponsorship and athletic success. Through this modest proposal, we believe that we can improve hockey’s recruiting environment with minimal impact on competitive balance by moving the college hockey enrollment timeline slightly closer to the traditional college experience, removing delays for incoming students and increasing the number of opportunities for younger players in our game.

Brad Traviolia is deputy commissioner for the Big Ten.


  1. Funny, this comes from someone whose teams have been increasingly accepting verbal agreements from 13, 14, and 15 year old kids. What’s worse?

  2. “A player becomes a 21-year-old freshman not because he was recruited at that age, but often because a school has locked him in with a verbal commitment while he was still in high school and then delayed his college enrollment by up to three years.”

    This statement clearly exposes the Big Ten as being completely clueless when it comes to college hockey. Very, very rarely is a 20 (or 21) year old freshman committed to while they were still in high school. In most cases they are late bloomers who were not ready and developed later than other players. In many cases these older players slip through the cracks of the high profile teams and the smaller, lower profile schools are able to maintain competitiveness by picking these players up in their last year of eligibility. Three years in and the B10 still has not figured it out and they keep making it worse.

    This whole piece (and the proposal) just screams of the spoiled, rich kid not getting their way and using their parents wealth and influence to change the rules to benefit their own plot in life. Sorry Mr. Traviolia that your precious hockey conference has been a huge flop. Your miscalculation should not be taken out on the rest of the NCAA hockey community.

    How many student athletes (a term the B10 uses when it is convenient for them) have benefited from coming in as a 20 year old freshman? Every year numerous kids get an opportunity to play college hockey that they would not of received if it were not for that extra year of eligibility.

    Now, the B10 will argue they are not eliminating 20 year old freshman, but they are just limiting how long they get to stay. Most Division I college players have dreams of playing professional hockey. Most of those players know coming out of school that they will not play in the NHL. They all have that dream, but by the time they are done with their college experience they pretty much know where they are at. They want to continue playing the game they love for as long as they can while they still can! Those players will leave school after three years and how many will never come back to finish their degrees? It will depend on the person, the player… but graduation rates will drop. Probably pretty significantly.

    I certainly hope if this passes the rest of the college hockey world will not schedule non-conference games against the B10. If they want to pick up their ball and go home then let them play in the sand box they created all by themselves…. all six teams, all year long.

    • I’ve seen plenty of players leave school early for pro hockey and finished their degrees online or in summer classes. This guy is an idiot.

      • I didn’t say they wouldn’t. Plenty do… but graduation rates would drop. And the GSR is based on a timeline and the “grades” each NCAA institution receives would be impacted. Get educated before you start calling people names.

        • No, the clump 6 commissioner is an idiot. I’m agreeing with what you said. The commish was basically saying that graduation rates would drop. Plenty of them finish their degrees

          • Yes, I agree plenty of them finish their degrees. And I agree the when it comes to hockey the B1G is a complete disaster.

      • You have seen them really?
        What % would you say have come back?
        How many in the last 10 years have you seen come back to campus and get there degree

  3. “In reality, the Big Ten proposal would not significantly change which students play college hockey, but would merely encourage these same students to enroll in college at a younger age, reducing the delay in their educational progression towards a degree.”

    Wrong …. we will see flight to the Jr.s’. All College hockey will suffer.

    • Fred, why do you propose we would see a flight to the junior leagues? Or in other words, why do you think more players would go the junior route?

      Junior leagues have age limits (usually 20 or 21) that are much lower than the NCAA, so the players benefiting from the current system couldn’t continue playing in juniors as 22-24 year olds anyway. Their only option at that point would continue to be college. In my opinion, the high-end talent that is currently choosing to play at the college level isn’t going change if this proposal were ever enacted (I don’t think it should be, for the record). I think this proposal could adversely impact some players in the NCAA ranks, but I disagree that college hockey as a whole would suffer or that the overall quality of the college game would decrease.

  4. What you are going to see happen is what happens already in college football and basketball. A recruit will come in as a freshman and redshirt their first year (redshirts seem to be fairly uncommon in hockey). Now you are right back to having a 21 year old redshirt freshman, who will be a 24 or 25 year old once they reach their final game.

    • Didn’t the North Dakota Fighting Hawks lose to one of those “collection of losers” in the frozen four two seasons ago? And the “collection of losers” team was short handed when they scored the winning goal. So the North Dakota Fighting Hawks couldn’t even beat the “collection of losers” team being a man up.

      • And that collection of losers team won the same amount of titles that year as well. And that collection of losers only put 1 team into the tournament last year… get bounced easily on day 1.

        • but yet you still couldn’t win against a “collection of losers” A more appropriate handle for you would be “Fighting Hawk chokers” since North Dakota choked against the “collection of losers”

          • The collection of losers has an amazing overall winning percentage of .500…..just absolutely stellar!

          • Remember Duluth v rodents last year? Great showing by the auto bid for the $hit 6 conference.

      • This is the dumbest thing I ever read. Minnesota was favored to win that game. And they were supposed to win handily. UND was the last team in that year. And Minnesota has played like crap ever since. So this argument is flawed.

  5. Some of us have been in the same position Brad is in. He is the new guy in a job that he doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about. So all he can do is rely on those that are feeding him information. Then when passing the message along he can only parrot repeatedly the same points with little confidence or sound arguments.
    The difference between normal business and the BIG is that in normal business someone else would tell you to go back and learn a little more before you try to change something you don’t understand. In the NCAA there is no one to do that so Brad keeps tripping over himself.

  6. BIG just trying to play the big shot with a silly power play…. They are the only Power 5 conference in in a college sport that clearly doesn’t need one. The BIG is is too small to be significant, and currently a second-tier conference in need of two more teams. A far cry from the super conference everyone predicted they would be. Do something to help college hockey growth, not disrupt it… Convince two of your members to anti-up with a program instead.

      • Rutgers definitely… New Jersey HS/Prep hockey growing big-time, now have the 5-6th? most HS teams in US. NJ’s best schedule EMass’s best regularly, many NJ recruits in HEA. I can’t/don’t see Maryland… Illinois (Great Lakes area) would make more immediate sense (Illinois-Chicago had a D1 team in the late 60s). But that’s the BIG’s problem.

      • What recruits are you talking about in Maryland, they cannot even get enough players for a Junior Team. Plus they have no arena, and there Club Team is a joke.

        • Sam Anas is the top scorer in the ECAC and is from Potomac, MD. Joe Snively just won Ivy rookie of the year, I think is the top scorer on the #2 team in the ECAC, and is from Herndon, VA. There’s a fair amount of hockey in the mid-Atlantic area. It isn’t New England, but there aren’t multiple D-1 schools down here. If Under Armour wanted to finance a team, they could, and it could be a big fish in an admittedly smaller pond.

          • Give me a name of any top junior teams in the Maryland, Virginia, in the past two years. How many hockey players from Virginia or Maryland are playing in the USHL. Sam Anas also played Junior hockey in Youngstown PA in the USHL, What equipment for hockey does UA sell. The only thing they have are Jerseys, and very few D1 school are wearing there Jerseys.

          • yes, and Snively played USHL in the midwest (I’m thinking Iowa, but could be mistaken). Right now, kids go outside the area for hockey experience beyond what they can get locally. What I’m suggesting is that these kids could be kept after USHL if there were a local option to play college. As for Under Armour, they aren’t Bauer, never will be, but as you note, they do supply jerseys. More to the point, if they did want to market in hockey, the founder of UA is on Maryland’s board and funds all their programs. It’s more or less if he wants in, he can find a way into hockey this way. If the question is, which B1G school might add hockey, I would think Maryland is as likely or more likely than any of the other non-hockey schools.

    • The rest of college hockey should just not schedule Big 10 schools until the Big 10 agrees NOT to exercise their Power 5 BS with the NCAA.

  7. Again the B1G is trying to throw around there so call power to make the rules benefit there league. They have all the money for recruiting, that most of the smaller D1 schools just don’t have. If this rule does go in affect every fan of D1 should be calling or emailing all the AD of all the other programs and ask for them not to play any B1G team. Lets see how long the B1G conference will do when they have nobody to play except there own league. Could you see a 36 game schedule of playing just each other. Its also time for us fans to start sending e-mails out to the schools we back and let them know how we feel about this. Has the B1G gone out and ask all the players playing in Juniors how they feel about this. He– no. Its about there power and money.

  8. The only thing this homer wants to do is change something purely for the benefit of that ridiculously bad conference. “We can produce anything, so lets make everyone else change so we look good.”

  9. One can only question as to why the conference doesn’t go out and get older, more experienced players. Do they have some hidden bylaw that says they can only take 18 year old freshmen? Just an answer in search of a problem.

  10. “…(T)he NCAA delayed enrollment rule creates a situation where 17- and 18-year-olds routinely compete against 24- and 25-year-olds.” Sorry. Not buying this. Show me those numbers. How many 18-year-olds are playing right now? How many 25-year-olds? Like to see those numbers.

      • There are numbers out there…at CHN. They only have the 30 youngest and oldest players, but there are, as of today, 26 18-year-olds playing NCAA hockey (four were 17 when the season began) and 27 25-year-olds (all but two turned 25 during this season).

        Somewhat interestingly, 3 of the 25-year-old players come from Big Ten schools, while only one comes from the NCHC. Most come from the WCHA (8) and Atlantic Hockey (8). In terms of the youngest players, Big Ten teams have 9 18-year-olds and the NCHC has 5. Hockey East teams have 7. So, it certainly happens where 18-year-olds are playing against 25-year-olds, although it seems the larger programs are impacted more on the young end.

  11. It’s laughable how hypocritical the Big ten is. This is the same conference that suggested that basketball and football players shouldn’t play their freshman year because they should be focusing on the class room and “maturing” during their freshman year. But yet now they don’t want hockey players to be “too old” talk about contradicting opinions lol

  12. The Big 10 sucks so they want to change the rules. HE and the NCHC have eaten the Big 10’s lunch. The ECAC and the WCHA are not far behind. In fact, the ECAC has been rocking it for a few years now.

    The Big 10 wanted their elite conference and now they have it. Now figure out a way to compete.

    • You left out the ‘figure out a way to compete after the other conferences blackball you for out of conference games’, essentially the Little 6 is playing pairwise Russian Roulette. Enjoy those pairwise boosting Atlantic Hockey tilts…(this bit is sarcasm, just in case you aren’t following the program).

  13. I bet if Lucia spent nearly as much time actually coaching and recruiting as he is doing crap like creating new conferences and trying to change the rules in his favor his team wouldn’t suck so bad. But I guess when you’re that arrogant being able to puff up your chest and walk around saying you’re a Big Ten coach is more important to you than your players. Do your job Don!!!

    • Wow, way to go off on a completely ridiculous, ill-informed rant on something not even mentioned in the article. You do realize that Minnesota that didn’t want to join the BTHC, right? I’m pretty sure they were even the only school who didn’t want to. They basically had to join though because they would have had to give up their Big Ten membership in every other (read: money-making) sport. Also, Lucia had nothing to do with forming the BTHC. If you want someone to blame, look in Barry Alvarez’s direction. I can agree that Lucia hasn’t done the greatest job coaching the past couple years and should probably be on his way out, but your post is so idiotic it’s comical…

    • They formed the B1G Hockey Conference primarily for TV. The folks in Park Ridge, Ill. needed to fill rather bare winter programming slots with more sports to feed the beast of a network the BTN has become (60 million households at last report). That’s why lacrosse is sponsored too! You guys MUST know this. This is old news right? It’s not really a hockey play, its an add-50-cents-to-each-subscribers-cable-bill play. Their model is not putting buns in seats, the money flows from other streams (online and cable). They are hooking up to more of an NFL/NBA/ NHL model. We’ll see if the model is working when the BTN payout to schools is publically released. If Minnesota loses $1 million on gate receipts but adds 5-10 million from tv revenue, then the B1G is sitting pretty. If not, expect a lot more heckling of the conference from college hockey fans! Either way, however, the game will play on.

  14. This is getting better and better. I wouldn’t despise it if it made any sense.

    I have said it before and will say it again… If college hockey lowers the age restrictions it will lose some of its best players.

    In turn the 17 and 18 year old prodigy players will become less and less likely to commit to the NCAA because their advisors, aka nhl organizations, will want them to be playing against the best competition. The current competition of the NCAA is good and getting better. Why change?

  15. I actually support this policy change (I am a UMD fan) because it will benefit American born hockey players. Who do you think these 21 year old freshman often are? Yes, some are American born players, but many are Canadian players that couldn’t make it to Major Juniors. The rule would encourage teams to recruit more kids directly out of HS/Prep programs, which would benefit American born players much more then Canadian players, who have no interest in playing NCAA hockey until they realize they aren’t going to make it to Major Juniors when they are 21 years old. Furthermore, I find it ridiculous that my tax dollars are paying for scholarships for 21 year old Canadian’s who have little interest in education and are just trying to extend their “dream” and playing professional hockey.

    • No they’re not. The bulk of the guys are guys playing in the USHL who by necessity or choice are playing there to gain the physical or social maturity or playing skills that will allow them to make a D-1 roster. fwiw, the split is probably 70-30 US to Canadian kids. Recruiting high school kids would water down the talent and overall quality of the D-1 game, IMO.

      • Well following that logic, there should be no age limit…lets just allow 35 year old players to play then. You need to evaluate what the mission of NCAA hockey is. If it is to have the highest quality D-1 game, then fine…lets get rid of the age limit entirely. But if it is to do whats best for American born hockey players which is to gain an education and develop players to play in the NHL or other professional leagues, then you are better off getting younger players to play as soon possible. Hate to break it to you, but the NHL has little interest in 26 year old NCAA players. They would be much more interested in 22 year old players after 4 year of NCAA hockey. Why do you think Major Juniors in Canada has an age limit of 22 or whatever…for this exact reason…to get the best Canadian players playing Major Juniors at a younger age so they can develop.

      • So the idea is to make sure the less skilled players still get a chance by waiting until they are bigger than the younger, more talented players?

        • Only in your mind. Kids mature at very different intervals. Some need the extra year or two playing Junior A either to mature physically or mature emotionally to be ready for the rigors of D-1 Hockey. The average 17 or 18 kid isn’t ready., the small % of the Gaudreaus, or Eichels or Werenskis are a minority. The big named schools (i.e. the BCs, BUs, Minnesotas, Michigans) will get those blue chip kids almost by default, with out much recruiting effort, by virtue of their name and the states they reside in. Most of the rest of D-1 who isn’t on auto-recruit will have to work a lot harder to compete for that same smaller, less talented, talent pool.

  16. 1. Not “routinely”. It’s the exception rather than the rule where a 17 yr old competes against a 25 yr old.

    2. “the average age of incoming freshmen continues to rise, with more than two-thirds of the 2015-16 freshman class having reached their 20th birthday before playing a single collegiate game. Such a wide age range of participants does not exist at any other amateur level in the sport of hockey, nor does it exist in any other NCAA sport except for skiing.”

    This is a garbage argument. Hockey folks have been playing against older competition forever.. willingly. Gretz did, Crosby did, Lemiuex did, Taveres, Toews, etc. Even at a youth hockey level, the disparity between the beginning of a birth year for the oldest and the end of the next calendar birth year (essentially almost two full yrs) has been going on forever and is nothing new. For the Little 6 to assert that it’s a big deal and detrimental to the college game is pure, self-serving crap.

  17. This will also water down the USHL. That league is now comparable to canadian Major Junior and if we pull kids out of that league to accelerate them to college hockey the USHL will turn into nothing but a glorified midget AAA league.

    • USHL is no where close to Major Juniors. How many USHL players go straight to the NHL or AHL? Zero. Many Major Junior players go straight to the NHL or AHL. Major Juniors is comparable to NCAA Div 1 (despite having younger players then NCAA) NAHL is even worse.

        • The only canadian junior A league that compares is the BCHL. USHL is ahead of all the other canadian junior A leagues

          • There are Junior A leagues in Canada (BCHL, MJHL, and several others) and then there are the Canadian Major Junior leagues (OHL, WHL, QMJHL).

            The Junior A leagues are closer to the USHL, etc. in terms of talent, while Major Juniors are generally comparable to the NCAA. It’s very likely the USHL is a higher quality league than Canadian Junior A, but as “joe” pointed out, the USHL is not even remotely close to any of the Major Junior leagues as Cameron claimed in the initial post.

          • I understand guys. I said comparable as far as you have the CHL, then it’s for sure the USHL when you look at next best. The top teams in the CHL would beat the best USHL team. But right after that the gap has narrowed. Moving on…






    • “Fundamentally change college hockey”?
      You’re giving way to much gravity to this rule change.
      College hockey will not look all that different five years from now, with or without this rule change.

  19. This isn’t about the age difference. This is a test to see if the Big Mistake can pull an end-run around the rest of college hockey and propose rules straight to the NCAA and not face a lot of opposition. So far so good. Once this sails through the Big Mistake can start ramming through whichever proposals they want. The rest of college hockey can either suck it up, drop down to D-II or D-III or drop the program entirely. The Big Mistake doesn’t care just as long as we return to the era when schools like Minnesota and Michigan were bringing home national hardware on a regular basis and the smaller programs were little more than cannon fodder. Kind of like how the B1G uses the MAC every autumn.

      • Several current D-I teams used to play D-II hockey and only became D-I when new conferences were formed. One would assume that if they decided to leave D-I they might choose to go back and recreate the D-II league.

        • Well, as a UML STH, I am familiar with this. D-II isn’t coming back any time soon. With only 60 current D-1 teams and 76 D-III programs the numbers just won’t support another division.

          • All the B1G cares about is that they aren’t competing for national championships anymore. Cannon fodder in D-I or playing club hockey is the same difference for them.

  20. College hockey has a real chance of being taken over by NHL teams who could form regional development academy teams much like soccer does in the rest of the world.

  21. Do they want these schools to turn out like BYU and have 26 year old seniors entering the NHL or work world late??? No offense to BYU or people who go there.

  22. Okay, why would BYU players be allowed to compete in their sports after spending two years on a mission. Same theory, one redshirt year, two mission years, suddenly you have a 21-22 year old football player playing against a 18 yr old.

  23. Only if you are able to stop admiring yourself in the mirror, Fabio. Your arrogance is embarrasing to me and others.

    • Arrogance is in the eye of the beholder. So is insecurity. I’m sorry you felt threatened by my post. I will dumb it down next time just for you Birther..:)

  24. Outside of the Big Six, 49 of 54 coaches rejected this proposal, 90.7%. The Big Six couldn’t get support within the hockey body, so it went behind the back of everyone else and back doored it to the NCAA. This new kid on the college hockey block is pretty greasy.

  25. As you can conclude convincingly, the BIG Chump conference has failed miserably in the college hockey arena…. See all the comments but more importantly look at the stands and their ticket revenues are falling in a dramatic manner. The only folks who believe this experiment is working are the emperors in the CHUMP conference…. The 17 year olds that are playing are the same coaches who recruit these kids and sign them at age 14…. the CHUMP conference is using its power and position to push everyone else around…. pathetic! A few weeks back Wisconsin was offering $5 tickets to watch the Gophers…… WOW a failed experiment

  26. This gets right to the point. Well put. Quit arguing about who has a better program, more titles, etc. The article is about age limits and the simple fact is that the Big 10 does NOT have the approval of the rest of college hockey to put this forth. The fact that they put forth this proposal without support of the rest of the college hockey world tells everyone that they are only trying to gain an advantage for their embarrassing conference at this point.

    • To my knowledge, they don’t need the rest of college hockey to approve, they need only to influence the NCAA, which is why this is a very dangerous proposition.

  27. Brad Traviolia, by his own admission, does not know much about college hockey. Thus, anything he says or supports on this subject has no merit or credibility.

    • Except that he’s saying exactly what the Little 6 is telling him to say, nothing less, nothing more. The guy is a sacrificial lamb, a Little 6 Mouthpiece.

  28. Terrific post, Sparky. I also hate the stupid back and forth! I am a cradle Gopher fan (who lives in MA and has been a UMASS season ticket holder since they resurrected the program) Even though I did not play in college – hell I wasn’t good enough to play for my HS team- I have been watching the game as long as you have- so I’d be happy to be your assistant!
    All that aside- the Big 10 conference just SUCKS! I thought it was a bad idea when it was announced, and nothing I have seen since has changed my mind. It seems to me as if it was a policy that was rammed through by non hockey people ( I wonder, if one could get Red and “the Don” off the record what they would really say about the whole mess) for the benefit of the Big Ten Network. And now this- I’m not sure bringing the average age of freshman more in line with that of other students is a bad idea, but I’m suspicious about the source and not pleased with the process. Again, I wonder what the Big 10 coaches would say if you could get them off the record. And on a related note – what’s the over/under on attendance for this years’ Big 10 tournament? Will they draw 5000?

  29. What? The poor big 10 isn’t worth a crap so they have to kill the quality and opportunities for young men to play hockey. This is a TERRIBLE PROPOSAL. Incredibly selfish and short sighted.

  30. I think the deputy commissioner is being very disingenuous in saying players have little control over their enrollment due to verbal commitments. Players and schools decommit from verbals every year. Players who wait until 21 to enroll almost always do so because they’re not ready to compete at the D-I level prior to that. Therefore this proposal will cost those student athletes a year of eligibility.

    My opinion, and it is just mine, is that passing this proposal will push more potential 4 year players to the CHL route and will have little or no affect on those who show up on campus before they’re 20. And it seems both fans and coaches really learn to appreciate the 4 year players who stabilize a program and a locker room.

  31. He has a valid point. NCAA Hockey is an outlier in this regard. Unfortunately the B1G has lost credibility, and so the suggestion coming out of that conference isn’t going to have much traction.


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