Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

A change in transfer rules hoists New Jersey's public schools on their own petard

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Here’s one for the “be careful what you wish for” category.

Public high schools in New Jersey wanted to crack down on what they (and every public school in the nation) saw as private schools recruiting away their best athletes.  Specifically, they wanted the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to toughen the penalty for a high school athlete transferring from one school to another. And they got it. Starting with the 2008-09 season, the penalty for New Jersey high school athletes who transfer without a “bona fide change in residence” was kicked up from 30 days to 365 days. Basically, it’s the equivalent to the NCAA’s rule that athletic transfers must sit out a year, except that in high school you don’t get an extra year of eligibility.

The rule has worked spectacularly well at keeping athletes from transferring… to public schools.

Turns out, the lousy economy has people taking their kids out of pricey private schools in favor of their local public school. So there are kids who would love to try out for sports at their public schools, except they can’t — because of the public school-backed rule that says they must sit out a year because their family didn’t move. From the Press of Atlantic City:

NJSIAA officials expected the changes to cause a ruckus. The economy made it worse. [NJISAA assistant director Bob] Baly received daily calls from parents and athletic directors. Parents wanted the rule explained. Some, according to [NJSIAA executive director Steve] Timko, wanted to appeal before their child even transferred.

…The NJSIAA eligibility committee heard 26 appeals in 2007-08 — none of them involved transfers. The committee heard 67 cases in 2008-09 — 46 of them involved students transferring from nonpublic schools to public high schools.

The rule allowed hardship waivers to be granted for “unforeseeable” and “unavoidable” conditions that “impose a severe burden” on students or their families. That burden can’t be for a sports reason, such as a lack of playing time or a disagreement with a coach.

The eligibility committee found itself examining families’ finances to see whether they met the hardship criteria.

The committee granted waivers in 39 of the 46 cases it heard of athletes transferring from nonpublic to public high schools. Nearly all of those waivers were for financial reasons. The waivers made the athletes eligible immediately or 30 days into the season.

…The number of appeals from nonpublic athletes shows that at least for one year the new rule backfired somewhat on the public schools.

So are public schools saying, hey, maybe we should rethink this? Hell, no.

Still, many public school officials support the tougher sanction. They say the controversy should die down because people are more familiar with the rule and the economy is improving.

Don Robbins, president of the Cape-Atlantic League and Vineland’s athletic director, was on the executive committee in 2008 and voted in favor of the rule. He said he would vote that way again.

“I think it’s a great rule to guard against the blue chipper getting recruited,” he said. “The thing that makes me a little leery is what it does to the program kid. The kid who plays soccer, tennis or football for the love of it and has to for one reason or another leave a school. But that’s why you have an eligibility committee, which makes decisions in the best interest of the kids.”

To paraphrase Mike Muir, I go wait, what are you talking about, YOU decided? THE CHILD’s best interests? How do you know what THE CHILD’s best interest is? How can you say what THE CHILD’s best interest is?

Especially when it’s clear as day that the public schools don’t give a rat’s behind what the child’s best interest is. Somehow I gather that if a coach left a public school for a private school, or vice versa, he or she would not have to sit out 365 days (just like how the NCAA requires a transferring player to sit out but not a transferring coach). So you’re going to make some kid who won’t play past high school sweat out an eligibility committee because you’re afraid Johnny Blue-Chipper is going to go Catholic on you? Someone I don’t see the school being quite as concerned if someone left because a school had a better marching band program. Let me know when you make a tuba player sit out 365 days.

I’m not crazy. You’re the one that’s crazy.

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Written by rkcookjr

August 31, 2009 at 6:18 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Good article. Stopping high school transfers seems too late to me. I see some of the local private schools in my area recruiting and scouting middle schools. For basketball and volleyball at least (sports I have been involved with coaching), they hold tournaments, supplying refs and facilities, so they can get a look at kids who might play for them.


    August 31, 2009 at 11:02 pm

  2. Thanks. The Catholic schools around me on the south side of Chicago do that, too, although the public schools are getting wiser and setting up their own camps and such. My neighbor behind me had a son who was offered a full football ride — to Mt. Carmel, Donovan McNabb’s high school. (My neighbor declined.)

    The fine line is that private schools, by their nature, HAVE to recruit every student they get. They’re just not supposed to make it look like it’s about sports, though everyone knows it is. The other interesting side of this is charter schools. Suddenly Bowman Academy in Gary is a huge basketball power, basically because it’s sucking away all the best players from the other city schools.

    Bob Cook

    August 31, 2009 at 11:13 pm

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