EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column by Ontario Hockey League commissioner/Canadian Hockey League president David Branch originally appeared in The Toronto Star. It is reprinted by Hockey News North with the permission of Mr. Branch, the OHL and the CHL.
By David Branch
This academic year, more than 300 Ontario Hockey League graduates are learning at a college, university or trade school with the scholarships they received by playing in the OHL. Of those players, more than 200 are still playing amateur hockey on U Sports hockey teams.
OHL teams are forecasted to spend more than $3 million this year on our scholarship program but this is just one of the many ways in which our players are supported.
The relationship between the OHL and its players was in the news recently when the Ontario government announced that it will exempt OHL players from the Employment Standards Act, confirming their status as student athletes. In doing so, Ontario joins seven provinces and two American states that have already made similar exemptions or clarifications.
The OHL appreciates the opportunity to address the questions raised about pay for OHL players. We believe the player experience that we provide, both on-and-off-ice, is the best package for our players.
The OHL is the No. 1 development league for Canadian university, National Hockey League and Canada’s national teams. Our primary goals are player protection, providing competition and coaching to advance our players in hockey as far as their talent and commitment allow, teaching players leadership skills and supporting their education to ensure success in life.
How does the OHL do that? All equipment, coaching, training and travel are paid for by teams but that is just the start. Players are 16-to-20-year-old young men who are living away from their home. OHL teams select, monitor and pay for housing costs and meals provided by billet parents.
Teams also provide academic advisers who monitor players’ grades, meet with teachers and tutor players. OHL players graduate from high school at a higher rate than the provincial average. The league also provides programs that support players, including a top mental-health program entitled Talk Today.
The OHL is committed to its communities. During the 2017-18 season, over $4 million was raised to help support thousands of different programs and bring awareness to critical issues. These funds were raised through the generosity of OHL fans with the support and co-operation of the teams.
By participating in fundraising and other kinds of community and charitable outreach, OHL players develop awareness, empathy and other qualities that take their personal development far beyond athletics. Of this, the OHL is exceptionally proud.
Many focus on the players who will likely enter and become stars in the NHL. Less noticed is the support the OHL provides to minor hockey, where OHL players get their start, and girls and boys get their first hockey experiences. Last season, the OHL contributed more than $1.2 million to Ontario’s minor hockey system.
The old stereotype of gullible players and naïve parents advanced by uninformed outsiders is just not accurate. When they decide as a family that their son will play in the OHL, they understand all of the challenges and opportunities. They are assisted by agents who know well the benefits of playing in the OHL.
OHL parents understand that their family will be relieved of the financial burden associated with elite amateur athletics. This burden is considerable, and includes costs related to ice time, training, equipment, travel, and tournament fees. They also know that their son will receive a year’s tuition, books and compulsory fees for every year he plays in the OHL.
Parents can be confident that their son will receive the best hockey development experience in the world. Perhaps more importantly, if the dream of playing in the NHL is not achieved, they know their son will be able to complete his education while accessing the best scholarship program in Canadian sport.
The OHL and its teams are proud to support our players, families, communities and minor hockey in ways that are proven, responsive, thoughtful and always progressing.
We are glad that the Ontario government has recognized the complexity and importance of major junior hockey, by protecting the amateur status of our players. We are proud of these young men and we keep them at the centre of everything that we do.