BOTW Breakdown – January 2017 owners announcement

Banners On The Wall is here break down today’s announcement from the EPIHL owners. We’ll go piece by piece through the release then comment on the whole.

Despite being top of the league, EPL owners have excluded Doug Clarkson and the Telford Tigers from the playoffs following a recent owners meeting. Telford did not attend. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Despite being top of the league, EPL owners have excluded Doug Clarkson and the Telford Tigers from the playoffs following a recent owners meeting. Telford did not attend.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The owners of the 10 clubs in the English Premier Ice Hockey League met last Sunday for a scheduled league meeting.

Representatives from Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees, Guildford Flames, Hull Pirates, Milton Keynes Lightning, Peterborough Phantoms, Sheffield Steeldogs and Swindon Wildcats were present.”

So the owners of the 10 clubs didn’t meet as there were only 8 there. What they actually meant to say was that a meeting was scheduled and representatives from Manchester and Telford did not appear. Why did no representative from Manchester or Telford go to a scheduled management meeting? Manchester may well be scrambling to get a rescue package together so that’s reasonable but Telford, the league leaders to the way that’s written have no showed the meeting. Do Telford have a response to this?

The agenda sent out to all teams prior to the meeting comprised of 2 main topics these being:

EPIHL v IHUK League – bearing in mind the meeting being called for the 25th in Manchester and how we approach that individually and collectively

League rules and way forward to include:

How we deal with teams being liquidated in season and out of season.

Discipline / Penalties and Supplementary evidence.

Players being approached in season.

Teams for next season.

League / Owner management Committee / Group.”

OK, so a clear setting out of what they meant to discuss which is a good start; surprisingly organised for British hockey.

It was agreed at the start of the meeting that Harry Howton would be installed as the Acting Chairman of the league moving forwards.”

I am not that familiar with Harry Howton but he has been involved with hockey for a long time and has a lot of knowledge so that’s a good start.

Following a very positive meeting the team representatives present have voted through a variety of rules, aimed at maintaining the integrity and credibility of the competition going forwards. A unanimous decision was made by all clubs attending that no member club will participate or attend the meeting on the 25th January 2017 convened by IHUK and it is intended that the league will continue for season 2017/18.”

This is an utterly puzzling and counter-productive announcement from the EPIHL owners. Whatever individual owners of the EIHA’s feelings on Ice Hockey UK’s plans for a new second tier, for not one single person at that meeting to agree to even go or send Harry Howton as their representative to at least listen to what the direction of progress is with those plans is, frankly, stupid. Even if it was a case of “know your enemy”, you’ve been invited to go. Again it seems that rather than attempt a bit of collaborative working with a stakeholder organisation, it seems like a chunk of British hockey wants to paint the door shut on itself. This is quite literally insane.

The main focus of the meeting was how to deal with turmoil and unrest caused by clubs not playing within their means and having to liquidate or bankrupt a company, leaving unpaid debts to creditors and its staff whilst potentially gaining an advantage in on-ice performances. As a result, it was unanimously decided by all member clubs present at the meeting that the Telford Tigers and Manchester Phoenix will not be invited to participate in the end of season playoffs, following their well-documented liquidations in the previous 12 months. Furthermore, going forwards any club who enters into administration/liquidation or bankruptcy during the course of a season will be placed on the same points as the bottom placed team in the league standings plus an additional ten point deduction, the league will also request that no further ITC cards will be issued to the team in question by IHUK for the duration of the current season. Whilst the new operating company will undergo an extensive due diligence check with a panel made up of the Chairman and current team owners.”

Hang on; playoff exclusion, points deductions, no further ITC cards that season, increased due diligence checks, this is a really good strategy for the league to do. I like this a lot and kudos to the league owners for getting it passed.

The only problem is why wasn’t this sort of thing organised back in June at the league AGM rather than slap bang in the middle of the season when it directly affects the team that is currently top of the league. Asking the officials to change an emphasis on an in-game rule during the season is one thing. Changing the rules of competition mid-season that directly affect one of the major contenders arguably devalues the playoffs (let’s be honest Phoenix fans, banning you from the playoffs this year isn’t a massive punishment) and could well be challenged on a legal level. Changing these rules for next season is reasonable but the owners made their bed on this issue by not passing these regulations in June 2016 so for 2016/17 and basic fairness, they need to now lie in that bed.

We believe these punishments underline our commitment to ensure a fair competition, as well as providing a sustainable future for our sport.”

Going forward I agree with that sentiment. For this season, I await any challenge that Telford make.

With regards to on-ice issues, all teams have been concerned by the rise in major injuries being sustained by players across the league, especially with regards to head injuries. With the issue of concussion becoming a pressing concern across the sporting world, the league owners have agreed that dangerous play must be dealt with and with this in mind the EPIHL have agreed a “zero tolerance” policy for hits to the head and dangerous play. This will also be supported by video evidence where required.”

This is really good to hear. What this needs to come with is additional training for the officials about management of such incidents and recognising head hits and the like. In fact, they just need more investment full stop so let’s walk before we can run on that. It will be interesting to see what “zero tolerance” will look like though. Hopefully guidance for the clubs will be published as to what sort of suspensions can be expected.

It was also agreed that Supplementary discipline can also be requested and EIHA Officers are currently formulating these processes which will be communicated to match officials, coaches and players alike, with both of these policies taking effect from all games played over the weekend of 21st and 22nd January 2017.”

So it appears that the EPL is moving towards having a more DOPS style approach to player safety. The EIHL DOPS is one of its elements with the most potential but the application of their penalties is inconsistent to say the least and is a frequent source of club, player and fan frustration as is the lack of transparency. I like the premise and that it’s being worked on quickly but hopefully the EPL learns from the EIHL mistakes on this one. The hope that video evidence will be used will hopefully encourage all teams to improve their videoing of games. If they’re improving their equipment for the videoing of games this then it means there’s a greater potential for streaming as a viable thing. That needs to move away from clubs doing it individually and towards a league wide set-up. If they can move fast enough to kick Telford and Manchester from the playoffs then surely they can work together on that would be the hope.

Harry Howton commented, ‘It was a very positive meeting with great input from all teams present hopefully these measures will ensure that the EPIHL can now be stabilised and grow into the future. I look forward to working with the teams as we develop the league’.”

Hopefully so, Harry but change your mind and get to that meeting on the 25th. It’s embarrassing to have nobody there.

This might be the most British hockey press release of all time in a lot of ways.

There’s a fair bit of positive action in it that should give heart to some whilst subsequently shooting itself in the foot. All of the positive moves on new financial rules and player safety will ultimately get somewhat lost in the quagmire that the owners have made for themselves. One team confirmed as leaving and one team that has openly applied for membership of another league has been allowed to vote on future rules and direction of league policy despite actively wanting to not be there for next season. Rules that directly affect two current league members have been voted on and confirmed without them being present or a chance to argue otherwise. The overarching governing body has effectively had two fingers shown to it by the league owners.

As I’ve said above a couple of times, there is absolutely no good reason in my mind why one person as a representative of the league isn’t at the Ice Hockey UK meeting next week. The EPIHL owners clearly believe that this is a reason to not attend. Given that IHUK, the IIHF recognised governing body, are doing something of this nature to try and change the structure of the sport in this country I’d argue that the EPL owners should be forthcoming as to what that reason is. The IHUK plan that Richard Grieveson has proposed is not perfect by any stretch but rather than engaging with the process, rather than attempt to work collaboratively with IHUK and try and shape the process, it’s a big fat “no, we’re not playing” with no real explanation as to why.

The league is confirmed as losing one member, another has applied to leave, one is in severe financial strife, one entered the season with a shoestring budget, the team at the top of the table will arguably be sat with their nose out of joint because they’ve been expelled from the playoffs at a meeting they (albeit possibly through their own choice) weren’t present at. If the EPIHL doesn’t engage with the process and all the dominoes fall, what do those teams have left to turn to? It could be a structure they had a hand in or going cap in hand to IHUK on unfavourable terms. That is not a sensible strategy. If they want the EPL to remain without its development tag then fine. Let’s face it, the development tag on the current EPL is a smokescreen in many ways but surely that development of players will aid the remaining EPL teams going forward. How does it help to be outsiders to that process?

We need to separate out the fact that there is good stuff in here and the fact that there will now be sufficient penalties to entice clubs to operate within their means. We need to applaud some serious efforts to protect the safety of the players on the ice and be able to review and apply reasonable penalties after the fact. These are good things for the now but as always the bigger picture is not of interest. It seems that the EPL is suffering from the same issue that the EIHL has suffered from for years. They need to stop staring at their feet before they walk into a lamppost.


4 Comments on “BOTW Breakdown – January 2017 owners announcement”

  1. Long winded rant why do people not realise that interest us lost like this yawnkkkenneth

    • Hi Kenneth, sorry it was a bit long for you. BOTW has been built on that in depth analysis. Maybe I could be more direct but there was a lot to cover here.

      • Anthony there was nothing on there including your (I presume) opinions that I had not seen. Thanks for your prompt reply

      • Fair enough. In that case it’s both interesting and kind of comforting that we’re all thinking along a similar track.

        But yes, all opinions and spelling mistakes are mine

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