London City has lost one of its best young players amid fears playing in a professional league will jeopardize NCAA scholarship eligibility.
Tyler Hemming, 17, chosen to play on the Canadian Professional Soccer League all-star team the last two seasons, has decided to play in the Western Ontario Soccer League for Croatia instead.
"We have a lot involved in Tyler and he's not easy to replace," City coach and manager Harry Gauss said.
The Saunders student has scholarship offers on the table from several U.S. schools.
Gauss, known for developing young talent through City, said he's leaving it up to his other teenaged players to decide if they want to risk losing their amateur status.
Vince Ursini, the CPSL chairperson, said he warned owners two years ago to beware NCAA rules if they had young players with scholarship potential. But it was only within the last year the league contacted the NCAA "directly."
"There are players who played in the league knowing it would jeopardize their status, but I thought it was a compliment to the league players would take that kind of risk to play at this level," Ursini said.
"However -- and that's why we told owners to speak to their kids -- my concern was that some kid playing in the finals of the NCAA championship and the team wins and all of a sudden there's a dispute because he's playing with the CPSL."
Ursini said the feeling a couple of years ago was it wasn't a problem because colleges were still signing CPSL players.
He said the league would consider restructuring or adding a reserve league to get around nebulous NCAA rules.
"The long-term goal would be to generate significant revenues to allow scholarships to be paid for players to stay in Canada," he said.
As it stands now, anyone playing in the CPSL risks his amateur status at a Division I school.
"The rules in Division II and Division III are much different and allow an individual to participate on a pro team before enrolling in college but the student may be subject to some penalties (sitting out one year before being eligible), depending on when and how long this participation lasted," an NCAA spokesperson said.
Ursini said some leagues are exempt and he wants to make the case the CPSL also should be.
He said he believed Hemming was OK to play because there are no paid players on City. He plans to make the case to the NCAA that City's team is made up of amateurs.
He expects no resolution before league play begins at the end of the month.
Ursini is telling owners that until further notice, anyone playing on a CPSL team will lose eligibility with a Division I school.
Gauss said some quick research shows there are at least 36 past and present NCAA athletes who played in the CPSL.