In an effort to cut down on the amount of high school student-athletes who go from one school to another, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association overwhelmingly approved a proposal that states if a varsity student-athlete transfers from one school to another, that student has to sit out of action for a total of 365 days instead of the 30-day transfer rule that used to apply.
Beginning in the fall, sophomores through seniors who participate in sports on any level must sit 365 days after a transfer without a residence change. If there is proof of a change of residence, then the rules will not apply. The NJSIAA defines a bona fide change of address as a move from one public school district to another.
The new rule also requires freshmen who participate on the varsity level and transfer before Sept. 1 of their sophomore year to sit 30 days. Freshmen who did not play varsity would be eligible immediately. Also, athletes who transfer without ever having played a sport at any level at their former school would be eligible immediately.
NJSIAA officials said that 38 of the 50 states in the country require transfers to sit out an entire year.
The new transfer rule was originally designed to put a stop to the horde of students who become established athletes at public schools, then move on to a Parochial school because those programs are usually better.
There have always been reports of the Parochial schools recruiting players from the public schools, creating more tension and turmoil between the two sides. So the proposal was made to change the transfer rule and it went through the NJSIAA’s executive committee by a resounding 30-2 vote.
The new transfer rule was not resoundingly approved locally.
“I think the rule stinks,” said Hudson Catholic head football coach and athletic director Rob Stern. “I think it’s going to hinder participation in high school athletics. I knew the reasons why the NJSIAA said that something had to be done. But to make a sudden change like this is really going to hurt kids, especially the lower level kid, who decides that he didn’t like the non-public school and wants to go back to his home school. A kid who was a non-factor at a school now has to sit out 365 days? It’s definitely going to keep participation at an all-time low.”
North Bergen head football coach and assistant superintendent of schools Vince Ascolese agreed.
“It’s an unfair rule in a way,” Ascolese said. “I definitely think it hurts the kid who wants to come home to go to the public school in his home district. It’s very strange. I think all of the options should have been thought out before this was voted on. A kid now has to make a decision after his freshman year and that’s a little tough. I think it will stick until the rule is tested, but I don’t think it makes sense. I think it just causes more problems.”
Ascolese said that kids will still transfer.
“If a kid wants to go to a Parochial school, he’s going to find a way, one way or the other,” Ascolese said. “If a kid is ruled ineligible, then there’s always the appeals process. But how many kids win those appeals from the state? One in 50? Maybe even one in 100? I really think it hurts the kids who already live in the community and want to come back to their home school. I think part of it should be in place, but nothing this drastic.”
Ascolese doesn’t understand why provisions weren’t made for students who fail at Parochial schools and then have to transfer to public schools.
“And these kids can’t play?” Ascolese asked. “How about if a kid gets thrown out of a Parochial school because of disciplinary reasons? He can’t play either? These things should have been determined before they voted on the rule.”
St. Peter’s Prep football coach and athletic director Rich Hansen said that he understood that the NJSIAA had to do something with the transfer rules.
“They had to fix the perceived problem and tighten up on the rules being abused,” Hansen said. “I think the new rule has holes in it. I think the real challenge will be whether it is monitored and policed. I mean they’re toughening up the rule with private investigators and photos to see if the kids live where they say they do. They’re going to make discoveries for schools breaking the rules and discover kids leaving for an athletic advantage.”
Added Hansen, “The thing I like about the rule is that the burden of proof of address doesn’t fall on the school, but on the parent to prove that they live where they say they live. That’s significant. I think the rule was designed to put more of an emphasis on thinking things through thoroughly before a kid transfers. Some kids do make mistakes. I don’t think it’s a terrible rule in concept. I just think some concessions need to be made.”
Hansen said that the perception is that the rule was put into place to halt kids leaving public schools for Parochials.
“But according to the state, 70 percent of the transfers were public-to-public,” Hansen said. “It’s perceived as a non-public school problem and the state needs to discourage non-public schools from encouraging kids to transfer. I understand that. But inevitably, it will show that the Parochials are not the biggest abuser of the rule, so in that respect, maybe the perception will change.”
Stern, who also coaches girls’ softball at Cedar Grove High School, believes the rule is somewhat sexist, because there are far more girls who earn varsity athletic letters as freshmen than boys.
“I’m probably going to start four freshmen this year,” Stern said. “The smaller schools count on female athletes to play varsity as freshmen. This rule is going to hurt the average high school athlete, but especially the freshman girls.”
All three coaches believe that there will be hardship cases that will have to be reviewed by the NJSIAA.
“But if they’re going to review every case on a case-by-case basis, it’s going to take up a lot of time,” Stern said. “I’ve always said that there are a lot of rules out there and if people want to fight the rules, they’ll fight them.”
“You can appeal anything,” Hansen said. “It should be interesting to see what happens when the rule is first enforced.”
One thing is for sure: It’s certainly going to change the thought process when it comes from leaving one school and going to another. A kid will have to think more than twice before asking for his athletic waiver and release. – Jim Hague