OHL Tryout Agreement: NCAA Ramifications?

OHL Tryout Agreement: NCAA Ramifications?

Well it seems that the OHL has decided to send out a Tryout Agreement to Players planning to attend Rookie Camps for the 2013-14 Season. This doesn’t sound ominous, but upon first glance, it appears to commit Player’s to agreeing to an OHL contract if offered by the team. Clearly, there is a need to figure out what’s going on?!? Here is the question from a concerned Hockey Advocate Reader and my article in reply:

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Hello Jason,

My son and I have been reading your articles for over a year now…very helpful…thank you! My son is playing Major Midget. He just received an offer to attend an OHL tryout.  They are asking him to sign an OHL Tryout Agreement and said it does not jeopardize his college eligibility.  After reading your article “NCAA Eligibility- CHL Tryouts – Do’s and Don’ts”, I have my doubts.

Based on your article and the wording in the agreement, it sounds like we should not sign this…will that mean he cannot attend the tryout?  Any input around this would be appreciated! Here is the pre-amble he received:

“2). OHL Tryout Notice – ohl-tryout-agreement.pdf

This tryout form is ONLY for the Rookie Camp and is required by our league. For those players attending multiple camps, you may write the dates of our rookie camp on the top of this form. We will sign you to a subsequent tryout form is you are invited to training camp in late August.”

Hockey Advocates Reply:

Wow, this is the first I’ve seen of this type of agreement. Very sneaky.

FYI, after I read through things, I called College Hockey Inc and they had just received the same agreement today and were submitting it to the NCAA for a ruling. So I should have ‘concrete’ OFFICIAL advice for you within the next couple of days, if not by tomorrow. Or it could take months, with the NCAA, you never know. Once I have that response, I will add a follow-up article. Here is my advice, at first glance.

I assumed up front that it was more of a waiver for insurance purposes then anything else. But after throwing the full weight of my Mom’s college funded legal education at it, it doesn’t even do that much. In fact, there is no mention of insurance or liability at all, I assume he will have to sign that form upon arrival.

So what does it actually say? It’s basically one paragraph or one long run-on sentence. The rest is blanks for player information, League info and signatures. What matters is this paragraph.

“The Player agrees to present himself, when called upon to do so on terms to be mutually agreed upon, at the Club’s training camp for the purpose of demonstrating, to the best of his ability, his qualifications as a hockey player; and further agrees that if such qualifications, in the opinion of the Club, justify the Club in offering him a Hockey Canada Player Registration Certificate and OHL Standard Player’s Agreement to play on their OHL Hockey Club, he will sign such documents on terms to be mutually agreed upon which are in accordance with the rules, regulations and policies of the League.”

Part 1: Tryout Attendance

“The Player agrees to present himself, when called upon to do so on terms to be mutually agreed upon, at the Club’s training camp for the purpose of demonstrating, to the best of his ability, his qualifications as a hockey player;”

This clause basically says he promises that he ‘will show up and play his butt off as hard as possibly.’ So far, there are no professional commitments that would jeopardize his ‘NCAA Amateur Status’ that I can see. The ‘best of abilities’ clause is standard in 99% of performance contracts, nothing untoward here – so far!

Part 2: Shooting your self in the NCAA Foot just to go to Rookie Camp?

This is the section that could be a problem.

“and further agrees that if such qualifications … justify the Club in offering him a Hockey Canada Player Registration Certificate and OHL Standard Player’s Agreement he will sign such documents on terms to be mutually agreed upon..”

‘Such documents’ being an OHL Contract. The way it reads is IF the team likes him, he has agreed in advance, to sign an OHL Contract – IF they so decide to offer him a spot on their List/Roster.

It is qualified only by saying that “such documents on terms to be mutually agreed upon which are in accordance with the rules.”

On its surface, Players are essentially agreeing to sign a professional contract, if it is presented to them.

However, I think that this is an oversimplification and that in real world legal interpretation, there is wiggle room in this document. It is in this area of ‘mutually agreed upon terms.’ My legal interpretation would be that the player at this stage will SIGN his contract IF he can negotiate mutually agreed upon terms with the club. So, he is not actually signing a professional contract, only agreeing to consider the terms and THEN make a decision.

So I’m pretty confident that this ‘contingency’ clause will be the focal point of any future NCAA ruling. Their ruling should be that the player has NOT yet signed a professional agreement until those ‘terms’ are actually agreed upon.

Overall, I think there is no reason for them to have this form, other then to muddy the waters with the NCAA and to ‘confuse’ players/parents as to their obligations and rights. It’s bad enough that Players are routinely badgered into ‘promising’ to sign with a team IF they choose to draft them in advance. Now, they want a ‘legal’ guarantee.

I’d call it Bush League tactics, but this is a sophisticated play.

Essentially, they are confusing Parents & Players so that they make uninformed decisions. The overwhelming majority of whom will not have an Agent or Family Advisor assistance to help them understand all of the ramifications of their attending a Rookie Camp with regards to their NCAA rights.

But in the end, this is about business and selling tickets. Once you sign the OHL contract, you shoot yourself in the proverbial ‘NCAA-Foot’ and they own your rights. If this agreement becomes a fixture, the WHL and QMJHL will most assuredly follow-suit with their own version of this ‘agreement’ in the near future, so this will become a national issue in short-order.

Advocate’s Verdict

Overall, I haven’t been very flattering about this attempt by the OHL to ‘curtail’ player’s rights. I think this ‘agreement’ is wrong for many reasons. First and foremost, this isn’t a ‘CHL is Bad, NCAA is Good’ assessment; I promote player’s rights and believe in being an Advocate for those who need assistance. That said, my professional opinion is that the OHL is a great hockey league that develops world class talent and I’ve had many clients graduate from their established proving grounds over the years (Recently: Matt Sisca Guelph Storm – ECHL All-Rookie Team 2012). I just think that in this instance, Players’ rights are once again being jeopardized unreasonably.

In conclusion, I would say that signing should NOT ruin your college eligibility but until the NCAA gives their ruling, hold off on signing.

So, if you choose to sign in the OHL or CHL, make that decision when it is right for you. Until then, protect your rights and keep your options open.

I hope that helps and thanks to one of my Advocate Readers for bringing this issue to my attention.

Jason

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