The California Interscholastic Federation’s new transfer rules are a major step forward – but they don’t go far enough.
First, though, the reform. Now varsity athletes who transfer to a new school but do not move into the school’s attendance area will no longer have to sit out an entire season. Instead, they will to basically miss all the preseason games but will be eligible for league and postseason.
In the fall of 2012, for example, a transferring football player will become eligible Oct. 1. In the winter, a transferring basketball player will become eligible Dec. 31, and in the spring, a transferring softball player will become eligible April 1.
There are some twists and turns in the details, but the bottom line is this: As long as students don’t admit that the transfer had anything to do with athletics, they don’t have to sit out a full season. (And of course, there can’t be any “undue influence” (we’ll get to that), or the old 12-month ineligibility rule still applies.)
This is, all in all, very good news, and long overdue. Families should be allowed to make decisions about their children without having to deny those children access to extracurricular activities, and if a family feels their son should go to a different school, for whatever reason, that decision should be honored – and the child shouldn’t suffer because of it. After all, education is about children, right? And shouldn’t families be allowed to do what they feel is best for those children?
But why stop with this halfway measure? Why not just admit that interscholastic athletics is an important part of the high school experience and let kids transfer for athletic reasons? That way, at least, we’ll remove a layer of blatant hypocrisy from this whole process – for example, families claiming that the transfer is because the new school offers Russian and the old school doesn’t, or that the agricultural program at School B is what the 6-9 basketball player has been yearning for his whole life.
And while we’re at it, why do we care about “undue influence”, whatever that might be? As presently defined, undue influence primarily means having been coached by the new high school coach in the last 24 months. That coaching could be on a team or in individual sessions, but it could also mean having a conversation with the coach about the high school program. And what exactly is wrong with athletes wanting to play for a coach they already know?
So why not just admit that athletics is important enough to kids and families that transfers take place for that reason. Sure, only 2 percent of high school athletes may get scholarships, but that’s still a whole lot of kids – that’s 16,000 in California alone, and that doesn’t count high school graduates who get preferential admissions and other kinds of benefits because of their athletic ability.
OK, now we cue the whining about “competitive equity,” and let’s just take the complaints in order.
“The powerhouse schools will just recruit.” Hello – they’re recruiting already. All the undue influence rule does is penalize those who follow the rules. Now, a coach or program with integrity must just stand by and watch prize athletes get spirited away by less scrupulous schools without having an opportunity to explain to families the benefits of their programs. And really, shouldn’t families have all the information they possibly can get about their child’s education? Why shouldn’t they be able to ask a coach about the style of play, the number of returning setters, or whatever they want?
The CIF answer is that families should talk to the school’s administration, including the athletic director, but there are a lot of schools where the AD has no clue what offense the water polo team runs, or whether the starting third baseman on the softball team is a sophomore or a senior.
“Kids will just transfer to the schools that already good.” No kidding – and they don’t do that already? There’s this myth that all high schools are created equal, and that they all have an equal chance of winning a state title, but the reality is that there are huge competitive inequities in existence right now, and allowing a few kids to transfer isn’t going to alter that reality. (Only 1.5 percent of all students in California transferred last year, and far from all of them are athletes.)
“Coaches will start paying eighth graders to come to their school.” Ever heard of a merit scholarship? There are plenty of schools in California and around the country that offer merit scholarships for things like art and math and drama and yes, athletics. So kids are already being paid to come, but in the vast majority of states, there’s simply not enough money involved in high school sports to justify any kind of pay-to-play operation. The winners, after all, don’t get a lot more money than the losers in high school sports.
And you know, even if they did, so what? What precisely is wrong with giving a great athlete a break on tuition at a private school? Sure, it would be nice if the great math student got the same deal, but in the real world, it works the same way – the pro basketball player gets millions; the philosophy professor gets tens of thousands.
All that said, it’s great that CIF loosened its penalties for transferring students, even if it still forces some families to lie about why they’re switching schools. Sitting out for 30 days is a vast improvement over the old system, where those families with access to lawyers could simply threaten to sue and watch CIF administrators back off because of the expense, while those families that couldn’t afford high-powered attorneys had to watch their kids sit out a full season.
But why stop at this halfway measure? Why not let families decide what’s best for their children even if that decision includes athletics as part of the equation? The good schools will still be good, the bad schools will still be bad, the need for lying and hypocrisy will be removed, and in the end, parents will determine where their children can go to school, not rule-bound administrators.
And isn’t the school system supposed to be about parents and children?