July 20, 2012 • Huddle Up

Transfer Rules Should Equally Restrict Athletes Coaches

“Recruiting” is a dirty word for most high school coaches. That’s because in most cases it’s an illegal practice.

Throughout my years covering prep sports as a newspaper reporter, I occasionally made the mistake of uttering that word. Coaches would cringe or quickly correct me to say they have no hand in recruiting. 

The fact is it happens. Call it what you want, but a minority of coaches do lobby for athletes at other schools.

Several state high school associations enacted restrictions on athletes who transfer, and Arizona is the latest to pursue such a rule. If approved, Arizona high school athletes who transfer to a school within a 50-mile radius would be forced to sit out for one year.

I stated in previous columns that I support School Choice—a rule that permits students to choose where they want to attend rather than conforming to districting zones. What I don’t support is a coach’s role in that process, attempting to lure a student-athlete to better his or her team and not the child’s education.

It’s a massive gray area. Mostly because it’s easy to shape an argument on the fact that School Choice opens the door for recruitment. So how can you support School Choice but oppose transfers?

Transferring restrictions error in one significant aspect—they punish the athlete and not the coach. Student-athlete cases should be reviewed one-by-one, and it’s encouraging to see that Arizona plans to consider hardship waivers for those transferring for legit reasons. There certainly are circumstances when these choices are made for reasons that don’t involve athletics.

On the other hand, it’s fair to ask why state athletic associations don’t take a stronger stance against coaches in these situations? They have no problem penalizing the athlete but tend to let coaches off with little more than a slap on the wrist. Most times, not even that.

It’s ridiculous, and it’s a gaping hole in this rule. You have to consider in several cases these students are 16 or 17 years old. We’re punishing a child for their choice, which may have been based on the coercion of an adult. It’s the opposite of our justice system—adults walk and juveniles are charged.

The system looks more absurd when you consider that coaches are permitted to leave and take a job across the street for more money without repercussions. Is it unfair to let those athletes transfer, especially if the leadership or tutelage of that coach is part of what attracted them there?

My whole point is fairness. Everyone should be treated equally, and it seems that student-athletes get the short end of the stick. State athletic organizations need to consider the message they’re sending with a lopsided approach that never entertains the thought that the children might be the victims. That’s what needs to change.

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