LEGAL CONCERNS: Athletes from Outside the School District Pay Tuition Fees to Transfer in and Play Right Away: And It’s All Legal

I have covered a lot of unusual developments in amateur sports over the years, but this one really made me sit back and think.

Suppose I told you that in the state of NJ, there are a bunch of talented HS basketball players who decided to transfer from their current HS to a different school district, then enroll in that school, and then play on the basketball team right away.

Sound inviting? All you need to do is pay that new school district’s individual student’s tuition fee – a fee which is routinely thousands of dollars less expensive than a comparable parochial or private school in that area of NJ.

Heck, some public high schools in NJ which have terrific academics and athletics, who I guess are looking for more students, even advertise this opportunity on their website!

Let me be more specific.

Point Beach HS in central NJ is a very small public HS with only 400 kids in the entire HS. Yet over the last few years, their boys’ basketball team has produced numerous Div I players….big kids who are 6’7, 6’8, 6’9  or so. So you must be thinking, “Wow, they must have great drinking water in Point Beach to produce basketball players who are so tall and talented.”

But the truth is, the star basketball players at Point Beach don’t necessarily live there. Many of them reside elsewhere, but their parents pay an annual tuition fee of $7,700 a year so that their son can go to Point Beach HS and play on the boys’ basketball team.

In recent years, Point Beach basketball has suddenly become a launching pad for Division I players. Kids have gone to ND, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida Atlantic, and so on. Only one of those Div I players actually grew up in town in Point Beach. The rest are all imports.

What about the local kids who DO live in that school district and who have grown up hoping to play for the HS varsity team? Well, the harsh reality is that most of them get to HS and then realize that they have no chance of getting much playing time on the varsity team.

The long-time parents in the town are understandably outraged; after all, their kids’ dreams of playing HS hoops are crushed by these out-of-towners. But here’s the kicker: this is all perfectly legal.

HOW CAN THIS BE LEGAL?

Suppose this happened to your son or daughter in your local HS? They work hard and finally get a chance to try out for the varsity team, only to see on the first day a bunch of new kids who are bigger and stronger and who are also trying out? The head coach knows that at the varsity level, it’s about winning. And so, he goes with the best players, even if they are new to the school district. Case closed.

As some of my callers said this AM, “There are no guarantees in HS sports. Just because you think you have a good shot at being a starter, there’s no guarantee of that – especially if some new kids enroll.”

Matt Stanmyre is a sports writer with NJ Advance Media and NJ.com broke this story a couple of weeks, and the response have been strong. Some commiserate with the local kids and their parents, and voice outrage about these kids coming into school. Others say that’s just another example of how youth sports and priorities have changed in recent years.

Others wonder how in the world these Div-I prospects end up at such a small HS.Rumors swirl as to whether Nick Catania, the talented head coach at Point Beach, is recruiting these top athletes on the sly. According to sportswriter Stanmyre, Catania vehemently denies all of this, and says these players simply find him and that the small school — which has top academics — suits their needs. Regardless, there is no evidence that Coach Catania is recruiting. But clearly the word has gotten out.

SO WHAT’S THE COST?

To attend Point Beach HS as an out of district student, the annual tuition is $7,700. That’s still a lot of cash, but it’s a lot less than going to a top parochial school in NJ where the tuition is $16,000 a year. And private schools can run $30,000 or more a year.

Furthermore, Point Beach is not the public school that allows this. There are others,  good ones like Northern Highlands HS in northern NJ, where the application form to enroll is on the school’s website. The tuition fee at Northern Highlands runs about $13,400 a year.

Matt also told me there’s a public HS called Eastern Regional HS in southern NJ which is renowned for its field hockey program. Apparently, top HS field hockey players routinely enroll there as tuition transfers to play there.

I wonder how the other field hockey coaches who compete against Eastern Regional feel about a perennial powerhouse which basically allows top players to go to school there from anywhere in the state.

From the brief research that I have done, apparently it’s up to the individual school district to decide whether they want to allow HS students to transfer in by paying tuition. I know in New York State, where I live, some top high schools like Horace Greeley HS in Chappaqua and Bryam Hills in Armonk don’t allow transfers. Other schools, I have heard, do allow transfer athletes.

But if the school board decides not to allow this, then the issue becomes moot.

BUT WHAT ABOUT FLORIDA?

Meanwhile, there is legislation under way in the Sunshine State that goes one step further. A law is being proposed there that any HS student in Florida can attend any Florida HS he or she wants….and doesn’t have to pay a tuition fee. Plus you can play on the HS sport team right away.

Florida HS coaches are outraged. They see this move as bringing a sense of free agency to HS kids. That is, talented athletes will be tempted to jump to another high school for any number of reasons: better coaching, better facilities, better conduit to college coaches, and who knows, maybe some extra perks under the table.

Sounds hard to believe, but this is being considered in Florida as I write this. Such a move just sounds it could backfire in a big, big way.