It’s become akin to a dog chasing its own tail, but Arizona high school sports still sees transfer rules in desperate need of a crack down.
Open enrollment remains an Arizona law and isn’t going to change, but the current 50-mile transfer proposal brought forth by the Arizona Interscholastic Association — modeled after Ohio, among other states — means families who move within 50 miles of their current residency must sit out a year of athletics, barring a successful hardship appeal.
The number 50 continues to be a hot discussion topic and that number could change. Yet desires toward stricter, cut-and-dried rules offer a rare overlapping of common interests between the AIA, athletic directors and coaches.
“Without the resources to manage this issue — or make it somewhat fair — I think most coaches would agree that there needs to be some type of process to limit a free-for-all mentality,” Queen Creek baseball coach Mike Campbell said.
But why? NCAA rules allow coaches to leave for another school for more money with no punishment, but a student-athlete who transfers because his/her coach left is required to sit out a year at their new school. High school kids often want to play with their friends. Most kids — whether a standout or a scrub — simply want the chance to simply play, and that might not be likely in a school other than their neighborhood’s.
Why not save the time, effort (often futile) and resources tracking down families, kids, proof of residency and crack down on coaches who try to casually persuade kids to attend their school?
“I’ve heard that argument,” AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said of the free-for-all idea. “Those who get (kids transferring in) think it’s a great idea but those who don’t hate it. Nobody has ever brought that idea up in a serious way. If we didn’t regulate it’d make every staff’s job easier but I don’t think it’d balance that field of kids going where they should be going around their neighborhood.”
Slemmer himself was a coach and administrator at McClintock in the 1970s and 80s when the school was often a target of wrath for perceived as helping lure athletes to its campus. Though smaller in numbers given the Valley’s meteoric population rise since then, he viewed those days relative to the rumors and anonymous accusations that the Chandler and Scottsdale school districts have endured the past decade.
“As long as something is done, it’s a good start,” Desert Ridge football coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “Just have something in print. It has to be in print. It’ll stop some in-fighting among coaches. No coach wants to be the one who’ll blow the whistle on another.”
Both Slemmer and several East Valley athletic directors noted that football and basketball have the largest number of kids who transfer, and the ones that create the most headlines and water-cooler talk. But the rules, if enacted, apply to all AIA member schools and their sports.
That means loopholes — and both the schools and the governing body agree they are in abundance — might be revealed in time if some adaptation of the 50-mile rule passes. Whether superstar or scrub, a more black-and-white approach is deemed a necessity to reduce those families’ and coaches’ useage of gray in between.
“The ‘major sports’ already have a club-type atmosphere and coaches are recruiting kids from other programs which isn’t right,” Saguaro athletic director and boys basketball coach Bob LaRue said. “That type of mentality belongs in college, not high school.”
All of which is how the AIA, its schools’ coaches and administrators appear to have found at least one fundamental issue worth stricter standards, even if the papers continue piling up.
“Every state goes through this evolution — back off (amount of rules), get tougher, back off — but the bottom line is to help prevent a school losing a good player for seemingly no reason at all,” Slemmer said. “There’s a cycle to all this and it’s about trying to keep up with the ebb-and-flow of Arizona high school sports.
“That’s part of the philosophy behind these new rule ideas: Have some loyalty and don’t go running to an apartment five miles down the road just to circumvent rules.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.