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Nic Kerdiles has been suspended from the University of Wisconsin's hockey team for a year, and the controversy seems to be much bigger than initially anticipated.
The controversy centers around the Kerdiles' amateur status, which has been called into question by some incriminating photos and tweets that connect him to Ian Pulver - an NHLPA certified agent and the owner of Pulver Sports - along with several of his staff members. Even though this story will likely take weeks or even months to fully unravel, I have tried to distill the bits and spurts of information that we have received into a timeline. Here we go...
December 2011-April 2012: Pulver, John Walters (another Pulver agent and Kerdiles' adviser), and other Pulver Sports staff members periodically tweet articles about Kerdiles and updates about his performance in the U18 Tournament. Several of the tweets feature hashtags like #pulver and #teampulver. Kerdiles is also referred to as a member of the Pulver 'crew' and 'family.' Waters tells Kerdiles that he loves him and even encourages Twitter users to follow the forward (in a tweet from March 19th).
As Andy Johnson argues at Bucky's 5th Quarter, family advisers cannot promote the amateur athletes that they assist. He is unsure whether these tweets count as promotion, or are simple acknowledgements of Kerdiles' success. Ryan Kennedy argues on Yahoo Canada! that it is okay to mention a player in tweets as long as there is "no indication of a relationship between [player and agent]."
May 31st: The day after the NHL Combine. TSN reporter - and Igor's daughter - Alyonka Larionov posts several pictures of Kerdiles on her public Facebook page. The forward is photographed eating lunch with Ian Pulver, John Watlers, Tyler Seguin, Alex Galchenyuk, and Igor Larionov. It's worth noting that Kerdiles is wearing a Sauce Hockey T-shirt. Sauce Hockey is a company that sells hockey-themed apparel, and Alyonka Larionov has shot commercials for them in the past. (If Waters gave Kerdiles the shirt for free, that is a violation of one of the tenets outlined in this memo prepared by former College Hockey Inc President Paul Kelly).That same day, Larionov also uploaded an image of Kerdiles eating sushi with Galchenyuk, and another of him with Larionov, Galchenyuk, and Nail Yakupov (another client of Larionov's).
June 22nd: Kerdiles is photographed with Galchenyuk, Yakupov, and Walters at the Draft.
August 9th: John Walters tweets that Kerdiles and Galchenyuk are participating in Team USA's 2013 World Junior Championship evaluation camp in Lake Placid, NY. Kerdiles has not been mentioned in any tweets from Pulver, Walters, or Igor Larionov since then.
August 15th: It is believed that Kerdiles shut down his Twitter account around this time. Andy Johnson argues that the investigation into his amateur status also began shortly around this time. I would encourage you to read Johnson's (extremely thorough) timeline.
October 6th: The Wisconsin Badgers open their season with an exhibition game against the U-18 U.S. National Team Development Program (the team for which Kerdiles previously played). The forward is conspicuously absent, which leads to a lot of speculation. At the time, his eligibility issues were officially "unspecified."
October 8th: The NCAA announces that Kerdiles will be suspended for a year for "violations of its code of amateurism." Wisconsin also announces that they will appeal the suspension.
October 9th: Kerdiles is excused from practice because of a headache that began on Monday.
The NCAA is expected to respond to Wisconsin's appeal by the end of the day today. Most fans see this situation as a classic example of NCAA overreach. Regardless of how one may feel about the questionable nature of the photos and tweets, taking a year of collegiate hockey from a developing player seems unusually cruel.
But as a graduate of a Division I school where most athletes - in all sports - played for the love of the game, I understand this instinct. The NCAA is deeply invested in maintaining an image of itself as an organization that cultivates student-athletes. They do not want to be thought of as waiting room for the pros, and they do not want to see talented freshman forwards rubbing elbows with prominent movers and shakers and seemingly promoting products (Kerdiles is also seen holding a jar of BioSteel supplements with Galchenyuk and Yakupov) before they've earned the right to do so.
Kerdiles is not the first college hockey player to face suspension, but players like Union's Josh Coyle and Wayne State's David Peca were ruled ineligible because of academic reasons and junior hockey games played, respectively. Both situations were clear-cut, and both situations occurred before the advent of social media, which blurs the boundaries of what is and isn't appropriate. Was Kerdiles posing with Seguin, Galchenyuk, and their agents as a fellow prospect, or was he truly a member of the "team," discussing opportunities for future 'official' representation between bites of sushi? Despite the pictures and tweets that saturate the internet, we may never know the full story.
And until the NCAA revisits their rules, college players with NHL aspirations will have to surround themselves with sharp advisers who know the rules inside and out and will prevent athletes who desire to maintain their eligibility from breaking those rules.