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Commentary

Dan DeKeyser and Athletes Without Degrees

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Dan DeKeyser, after finding out how much an entry level contract pays.
(Mlive.com)

There’s been a lot of talk , at least in Red Wings circles about Dan DeKeyser lately. For those of you who don’t have a pulse on potential signings on a team you don’t care about, allow me to bring you up to speed. DeKeyser is close to completing his junior year at Western Michigan. He’s 23 years old, 6’3”, 200 lbs, and a left-handed shot. He’s undrafted, currently fielding offers from various teams, and word on the street is he may announce an intention to go pro, and play immediately for which ever team he ends up signing. Opinions vary from this being a must-sign prospect for Detroit (thanks Graham and WIIM!) to not being that big of a deal, although to be fair that’s pretty much one guy. (Looking at you, Greg who gallops.)

The talk surrounding the undrafted college athlete got me thinking, about Dekeyser and college athletes in general. I hope he ends up going to Detroit, but regardless of where he ends up signing, I don’t want him to play this year. Or in the 2013-14 season. It is my opinion that athletes joining the NHL, or any professional sports league, should be required to have a bachelor’s degree.

It isn’t a popular opinion but there’s plenty of reason why it should be in place . It doesn’t have to be a concrete rule, I’m sure there’d be exceptions here and there. But it’s a rule that should be there for the sake of the player. My high school football team’s assistant coach is a prime example of what can go wrong with young athletes. He was a star football prospect, went to the University of South Carolina and had his knee annihilated on a punt return his freshman year. Annihilated to the point where he would have difficulty walking the rest of his life, much less playing a sport. This wasn’t a collective build up of injuries from years upon years of playing; this was one play and one injury.

Coach Robinson never talked much about the importance of a college education, seeing as he was doing ok as an assistant coach at our school and some other day job I don’t quite remember. But with all the freak injuries we see in the sport of hockey, I think we all know each player walks a thin line. From Patrice Bergeron to Chris Pronger to Taylor Fedun’s broken femur to Blake Geoffrion’s skull fracture, and Chris Moore’s broken neck. I don’t think you can argue that each player is one shift, one play away from having his career ended.

So what does that leave a player with? A broken body, maybe some money in the bank if he stashed it away, a sham of an education and no marketable skills because he’s been playing hockey his whole life. Hopefully he doesn’t have a family depending on him, because that’s tough enough for a single man to deal with. Maybe a few will make the jump to broadcasting or coaching but those players are few and far between, not to mention the demand for new broadcasters and coaches isn’t always that high.

A bachelor’s degree isn’t necessarily the solution to all of this. I for one can speak to this , as I’m about to finish my bachelor’s degree (of science no less!) and it hardly guarantees a good job on a livable wage. However, a bachelor’s degree at least gives this person something to build off of, or a starting point to a new career for a life after hockey.

I can’t really blame the athlete in this scenario. Well, I could. It’s his life, he should be the one looking out for himself and his mother isn’t around for contract negotiations (Probably). But I can understand how it would be easy to get caught up in the opportunity to make millions of dollars playing your game on the highest level there is, the spotlights, the journalists writing about how great you are, the fans, etc. This is why I feel like the responsibility should be on GMs, teams or leagues to make a degree a requirement for playing in the league (grandfathering it in, of course).

It’s also worth mentioning that the athlete who goes his whole career without a traumatic injury is hardly immune from being in a much better situation with a bachelor’s degree once he’s done playing. There’s an ESPN 30 for 30 film called Broke that does an excellent job illustrating this (and it’s on Netflix!). Seemingly countless athletes makes more money than my entire family has seen in it’s life over the span of ten years, give or take, and they retire from the game and end up in the same situation as an injured athlete. A broken body, maybe some money in the bank if he stashed it away, a sham of an education and no marketable skills because he’s been playing a game his whole life. Many will point out that it’s hard to have sympathy for someone who catches a ball for a living and makes millions of dollars, but between bad investments, family members to support and trying to live like a king, it’s easy to see why so many athletes end up going broke instead of investing their salaries and earning 2.75% in an IRA or something else practical.

Hockey enjoys a reputation of being the only sport where the owners go to jail more often than the players, but it isn’t immune from this problem that plagues other sports leagues. Sure there’s Steve Yzerman who slides right into being a general manager. But there’s also Darren McCarty who goes bankrupt before he’s even done playing. Yeah, Mario Lemuix probably has no problem putting food on the table given that he now owns the team he played for. But there’s Jaromir Jagr and his multi-million dollar tax lean that he’s still probably paying off.

Again, having a degree wouldn’t make these problems go away. It does nothing for a player who doesn’t plan for the future appropriately and it doesn’t protect against poor decision making over the course of one’s career. But it gives that player something to build off of. And if this player does all these great things to entertain us for a decade and a half or so, don’t we want the best for him once he’s ready to hang up the skates? In a world where a Bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming the equivalent of a high school diploma in our parent’s generation, a degree should be the bare minimum requirement, not the rare exception for the athlete that decided to finish.

So by all means, god’s speed to you Mr. DeKeyser. Please sign in Detroit and help shore up that blue line, you know the team needs it! But do it in a couple years after you have your degree and dazzle us then, not now.

Make like Dan Ellis and follow John on Twitter!

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About J Evans

Currently studying for my Bachelor's in Biology at Virginia Wesleyan College. U.S. Navy vet, hockey adorer. I hope to someday visit every NHL arena, and I've got five knocked out so far!

Discussion

10 thoughts on “Dan DeKeyser and Athletes Without Degrees

  1. simple answer bro… Hell no… what about players coming from the CHL who chose no college or European players who choose no college… dumb question

    Posted by Patrick Johnson | March 28, 2013, 6:51 am
  2. The OHL teams provide funding for an education AFTER the player’s career is over. Maybe that’s the ticket for players who’s pro career is within a certain number of games/dollars earned?

    Posted by buddhahat13 | March 28, 2013, 8:17 am
    • I’ve always heard that the eductation players get while playing in the CHL is a joke but never anything about education afterwards. I have heard of athletes going back and finishing degrees every now and then, but not on a regular thing. I suppose it’s difficult to tell if something like that is effective when you can’t tell if players are using it until 10-15 years after they’ve played OHL/CHL hockey. Time will tell I suppose.

      Posted by J Evans | March 28, 2013, 10:27 am
      • There are parameters around the education funding but kids that do not go on to a pro career are entitled to a college or university education provided they attend within a few years after their amateur career ends. Most attend high school while playing in the OHL – typical public school education. Some take advantage, some don’t.

        Posted by buddhahat13 | March 28, 2013, 10:49 am
  3. As a college educator, I like this idea in theory. In practice, like most everything in college athletics, it’s more complicated (and, sadly, rarely has much to do with education). NCAA hockey teams have a difficult time recruiting and maintaining players with the CHL as a viable (to some, preferable) development track. It’s easier to make that kind of a rule for sports like football or basketball where college is basically the only route to advancement. And if you end up turning off high-end talent so they choose the CHL how many borderline guys follow to chase a pipe-dream?

    Honestly, I like that NCAA players at least get *some* college eduction and experience vs. guys that come straight out of juniors. As someone who’s career path was completely derailed by health problems I do see value in covering your bases with education (though, my career path was tenure-track academia so you know, no path is guaranteed) and these guys are signing deals where they should have enough money (if properly managed) to fund the final years of their degree when they are ready.

    I’d massively overhaul NCAA athletics top to bottom if I could but in the context of existing rules and practices, I think the ability to leave and go pro is ok and ranks really low on my NCAA evil scale ;)

    Posted by Karen M | March 28, 2013, 11:11 am
  4. Just for interest’s sake, here’s an article that explains the CHL education policy a little. I apologize for the inflammatory title, inflammation not intended ….

    http://www.thehockeynews.com/articles/48807-CHL-education-opponents-way-off-base.html

    Posted by buddhahat13 | March 28, 2013, 11:38 am
  5. Dekeyser is going to make 10+ years worth of Bachelor’s Degree salary in a single year. It is a much larger financial risk for him to finish college, where he could also suffer a career ending injury. If he signs an NHL deal and gets hurt in the very first game, he can just go back to college. It will always be there, the NHL (and its $$), won’t.
    Yes, the longer he’s out of college, the harder it is to go back, but that also means he is spending more time in the NHL making millions.

    Posted by Nick | March 29, 2013, 9:30 am
  6. So DeKeyser should play another year and risk having his knee annihilated, winding up being an assistant high school coach? Schools have programs in place to help athletes that leave early obtain a degree. I believe Drew Miller (Human Resources) and Justin Abdelkader (Supply Chain Management), both Red Wings and Spartans, finished their degrees after leaving as juniors.

    Posted by Chris | March 29, 2013, 12:49 pm
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