At long last, the ice hockey committee of the NCAA has decided to clamp down upon the number of foreign players, primarily Canadians, that have dominated several American college teams in the past few seasons. It is a much needed measure, but one cannot help but question the real motive behind the move.
The proposal currently before the NCAA Executive Council would limit the number of foreign players on a 17-man varsity squad to 14 next season, exclusive of goaltenders, and would reduce it to 10 and ultimately to eight by 1973. If the measure passes in the Council, it goes before the NCAA Convention in early January, and if approved there, becomes NCAA law.
Theoretically, the proposal is intended to reopen American college hockey as a means of developing. American talent for the professional leagues. Canadian performers have the Junior leagues to provide the necessary preparatory channel. Americans have ... American college hockey. And, argues the NCAA, Canadian imports are choking off that channel in the United States.
The NCAA point is well taken, but one must wonder whether the quota on Canadians would produce the desired effect. Wholesale importation did not begin to affect Eastern hockey, at least, until the mid-60's, when Boston University. Cornell. R.P.I., and New Hampshire followed Clarkson into Canada for their players.
But even before that, when American college hockey was played by Americans, the system produced only one player for the National Hockey League-Tommy Williams. So unless the caliber of home-grown competitors has improved independently since that time, it is dubious that the proposed restriction will do much to increase the number of Americans the professional ranks.
So the real purpose behind the quota must be elsewhere, and it may just lie in the resentment of the majority of Eastern colleges, at least, that have watched helplessly as Cornell, for example, destroyed their hockey teams year after year with almost totally Canadian rosters.
The number of Eastern colleges that depend heavily upon Canadian talent is only a handful, but the extent to which they depend upon it, and the success with which they have been able to dominate Eastern hockey since the mid-60's is incredible.
Take Cornell, for example, since its record is perhaps the best known. From 1958-59 until 1960-61, the Big Red lost 26 consecutive Ivy games which, on one occasion included 1?-0 and 18-0 humiliations by Harvard in the same season. Clearly, something had to change, and the predominance of Americans on the roster was altered. In 1961-62, using a number of Canadians, Cornell finished second to Harvard, and had a 13-5 overall record.
In 1965, the record was 19-7. In 1966. it was 22-5. In 1967. with only one American. Framingham's Andy Crowley on the roster, it was 27-1-1 and included the ECAC and NCAA titles.
In 1968. Crowley quit, making the roster fully Canadian, and Cornell went on to a 27-2 season. Last winter, again with no Americans, the Big Red won 27-of-29, took its fourth Ivy title. the ECAC championship, and second in the NCAA tournament.
The have-nots have, understandably, decided to fight back, and such coaches as Harkness, Ron Ryan of Colgate. George Manard of St. Lawrence, and Len Ceglarski of Clarkson have screamed foul.
Menard has termed the proposal "an act of discrimination," and perhaps it is. But clearly, in the case of Cornell. the Canadians are recruited almost exclusively for purposes of hockey, and it smacks of exploitation.
And Harkness alleged recruiting methods do little to dispel the charge. In a recent year, he deliberately fed a goaltender highly questionable information in an effort to prevent him from applying to Harvard, and several other Crimson hockey players have related similar incidents of Harkness' "negative recruiting."
Quite obviously, such tactics, in an effort to acquire Canadian rosters, and hence, powerhouse teams, are against the unwritten spirit of American college hockey. And if the NCAA hockey committee had submitted its proposal in order to correct it, rather than for the stated reason of redeveloping American talent, its motives would be less open to conjecture.