The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) will rule today on the eligibility of Immaculata High School quarterback I’Zjaier Sanders, who Franklin officials allege transferred from their school to the nonpublic football power for athletic advantage, a charge Sanders and his athletic director deny.
Officials from both schools, along with Sanders, provided testimony Wednesday afternoon during a 3 ½-hour hearing before the NJSIAA’s three-member protest committee at the statewide athletic association’s Robbinsville headquarters.
Sanders, a senior, will be allowed to compete this season beginning with Friday night’s home opener against Ridge if he is declared eligible. He will have to sit out the entire year if the NJSIAA determines he transferred for athletic advantage.
Asked why he left Franklin, where he established himself as one of the area’s top quarterbacks, Sanders, in his first comments on the matter to the media, said, “My mom and dad thought it was the best for me academically.”
Sanders said he thought Wednesday’s hearing “went really well” and that he is “feeling pretty confident” that the NJSIAA will declare him eligible.
“It’s a little nerve-racking,” Sanders said. “All I want to do is play. I’m really antsy. I just want to get on the field. Maybe I expected a little hostility from Franklin (after transferring), but I didn’t expect any of this.”
Immaculata Athletic Director Tom Gambino and Franklin Athletic Director Kim Kenny declined comment until after the NJSIAA issues its ruling.
Sanders sat out last weekend’s season opener while awaiting a hearing and ruling because, if he is deemed ineligible, the Spartans, under NJSIAA rules, would have to forfeit any victories, including last Saturday’s over Plainfield, for using an ineligible player.
Brian Dohn, Northeast recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said a ruling against Sanders would be a “crushing blow” to the player’s recruitment because he needs this season to try to secure a college scholarship offer.
“A lot of schools are waiting for something that they haven’t seen yet (ability-wise) to offer, and he’s not going to have the opportunity to prove it (if deemed ineligible),” Dohn said.
“What he may have to do (if deemed ineligible) is go to prep school for a year (in 2013-14) and get more looks. Now you are talking about the expense of doing that,” Dohn said.
Sanders completed 89 of 173 passes for 1,174 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while leading the Warriors to a 6-5 record and an NJSIAA North 2 Group V semifinal berth.
Gambino said Sanders moved with his parents, Kareem and Twyla, this year from Franklin to Piscataway, establishing legal residency in a new district, making Sanders eligible to compete immediately at Immaculata without having to sit 30 days under NJSIAA transfer rules.
Gambino previously said he believed Sanders would be eligible to return to Franklin with “no penalty,” but he added, “that’s never going to happen because of the way that they’ve treated him now.”
Gambino said he believes Sanders has no plans to enroll at perennial state power Piscataway if ruled ineligible at Immaculata.
Franklin and Immaculata are scheduled to play each other in 10 days.
Should the NJSIAA rule against Sanders, Timko said, Immaculata can appeal the ruling to state Department of Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, whose decision, if unfavorable, could be appealed in state Superior Court.
Immaculata, however, probably would consider a court order seeking a preliminary injunction or stay of the NJSIAA’s ruling pending appeal that could expedite Sanders’ return to the field.