ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – It took almost the whole day, but someone finally asked the question on everyone’s mind.
When was the NJSIAA going to do something about transfers?
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association made its presentation Wednesday at the Director of Athletic Administrators of New Jersey convention. It was unlike any NJSIAA meeting in recent memory. There was no topic off limits.
There was discussion about whether the NJSIAA should be involved in regulating summer practices, and about changing to five public school groups and one non-public group for most sports. The organization also rolled out a proposal seeking increased membership dues and tournament fees.
For the first time, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, Dr. Lamont Repollet, directly addressed the DAANJ and NJSIAA Executive board. He gave a brief but passionate speech, demonstrating his affection for high school sports and calling upon the administrators to build strong cultures in their schools.
It was a coup for the NJSIAA and DAANJ to have Repollet on hand. The relationship between previous commissioners and the NJSIAA has more often fallen into a case where the NJSIAA made a ruling, then the commissioner says no, overturns the decision and no further follow-up is given, leaving NJSIAA officials frustrated at the leadership vacuum.
The most vexing issue of the decade for the NJSIAA is how to handle the rise of transfer students. NJSIAA Assistant Director Kim Cole told the crowd of athletic directors and coaches that the NJSIAA had seen 3,080 athletes apply to transfer since the process became electronic.
The impact of student-athletes transferring in high school sports is hard to quantify, but it has seemed to erode some of the passion in the whole enterprise. New Jersey’s rule states that kids have to sit out 30 days unless they can prove a bonafide change of address.
The NJSIAA knows the word bonafide is too ambiguous. Show a PSEG bill, or a lease agreement, and you’re in.
“We can’t stop parents from doing what they are doing, which is manipulating the system,” Cole said firmly.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t try.
Steve Goodell, the NJSIAA’s legal counsel, said that what the NJSIAA can do is try to amend the current rule by adding provisions to it. All of this is just in the talking stage, but for the first time the NJSIAA revealed what it might be thinking.
One thing the NJSIAA will consider is where does a student-athlete move to? Not just where they moved from, but where they moved to. There have been many cases where a kid moves (or says he or she moved) from one town to another just to become eligible at a non-public school.
Goodell said one thing the NJSIAA could look at is whether or not the new place of residence is in that non-public school’s district, meaning if a kid wanted to transfer and wrestle at Bergen Catholic, he’d have to legitimately move to Oradell. He couldn’t go from Nutley to Newark and suddenly be eligible.
A second thing the NJSIAA will consider is whether or not the transfer is moving to an address shared with someone already on the team. Meaning, another player couldn’t just offer up his house to a prospective transfer and say he/she moved there.
A third way the NJSIAA can look at the situation is whether the transfer has a sibling who also transferred or moved. Again, the NJSIAA has seen cases where one family member moves, yet somehow, the younger sibling stays at the public school.
“These are some of the things that I think would help dissuade people from transferring, or at least, say, OK, if you have to sit 30 days, maybe you’re not going to do it,” Goodell said. “Maybe if they do and you can’t prove athletic advantage, you sit 30 days, most people would say that’s fair.”
Although not saying so directly, it’s obvious the NJSIAA has been talking to Repollet about altering its transfer rules. He would have final approval on any changes, although from his speech its clear he’d much rather the NJSIAA solve the problem on its own.
It’s a tough issue all the way around. There is a balance between freedom and the option to play where you want along with the proper deterrent to maintain competitive balance and fairness.
A lot of people blame the NJSIAA and say, why don’t they just go catch someone, it’s obvious what’s going on. But it isn’t that easy. Cole said the organization makes phone calls, does its research, but it’s limited in the scope of what it can do. People lie.
Wednesday, the NJSIAA showed it wasn’t done trying to curb unnecessary transfers. They may have a new partner in Repollet. The truth is, it’s going to need everyone it can.