Roughly half the country’s state athletic associations require one year of ineligibility for student-athletes transferring for anything other than “bona fide” family reasons, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. This restriction is generally an attempt to close any loopholes sought by those prioritizing athletics over education.
Essentially, 50 percent of the nation significantly restricts a student-athlete’s ability to pursue greater opportunities in sports under the guise of academics. California is one of those states, and Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod — chairman of one of the country’s most competitive athletic regions — would like to shift the conversation a bit.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Wigod will lobby his nine fellow commissioners to revise California Interscholastic Federation transfer rules, specifically Bylaw 510, which limits a student-athlete’s ability to transfer schools if he or she doesn’t like the coach.
“We need to be consistent in applying our bylaws,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think we can be consistent with what currently is in place.”
The CIF specifically cites “evidence of parental or student dissatisfaction with a coach or coaching decision at a former school” as justification for ruling a transfer ineligible. On one hand, it seems rational to prevent kids from jumping schools just because they don’t like their coaches. On the other, such a bylaw restricts a child’s right to pursue happiness.
Wigod, who told the L.A. Times he still supports restrictions on recruiting and following coaches from school to school, cited a pro-style quarterback’s desire to play in a system that suits his skill set as reason for asking the question: “Why should se stand in the way?”
It’s an important query every state athletic association should be asking itself now.
And perhaps it should be extended to include restrictions on recruiting. After all, if a student-athlete is willing to uproot his or her life during high school to pursue athletics, who is the state athletic association to decide whether it’s right or not? Even if academics are equal at the respective institutions — unlikely the deciding factor when state athletic associations rule on a student’s eligibility — increased visibility in a superior athletic system could create better odds for a scholarship and eventually higher academic pursuit.
Take Ohio, for example, which automatically rules a student-athlete ineligible for 50 percent of a season if he or she transfers within 50 miles of his former school, regardless of whether or not the move was for bona fide family reasons, according to the NFHS.
Or take Texas as Exhibit B. According to The Dallas Morning News, a coach merely needs to check one of the following six questions on a Previous Athletic Participation Form to deem a former athlete transferring to another school ineligible for an entire season:
1. Was there any conflict or dissatisfaction between the student, his/her parents, and the athletic/academic supervisors at the school?
2. Was this student recruited to attend another school or was any undue influence exerted upon this student or family to change schools?
3. Did this student quit an athletic activity or program while enrolled in your school? If yes, attach explanation to the District Executive Committee.
4. Was this student ever suspended or removed from your school athletic program? If yes, attach explanation to DEC.
5. Would the student be prohibited from participation in athletics had they not changed schools? If yes, attach explanation to DEC.
6. Based on your knowledge of the student and their circumstances, is this student changing schools for athletic purposes?
In other words, a coach in Texas who disagrees with a student-athlete has complete control over his or her future, while a student-athlete in California who disagrees with his or her coach has no control whatsoever. Unless they want to move to another part of the country.
The best reason I can find for restricting recruiting in public high schools is the prevention of superior coaches creating vastly superior teams, but is that in the best interest of the student-athletes or a quest for parity at the prep level? Or maybe it’s to ensure incumbent student-athletes don’t lose their positions to incoming ones? Neither of which seems like a legitimate argument for restricting a teenager’s unalienable rights in American society.
So, maybe it’s time the NFHS develops a uniform policy across all 50 states for the eligibility of transfer student-athletes — or maybe even abolish the rules altogether.