If you happened to have heard last Sunday’s show or heard the podcast on WFAN.com, you will recall that we were talking about a most unusual situation in NJ regarding the Wayne Hills HS football team.
The team ended their regular season with a record of 8-1 and seeded number one in their regional playoffs.
But then less than two weeks ago, the team was suddenly informed by the NJSIAA, the state’s athletic governing body, that there was some sort of residency violation involving involving three brothers on the Wayne Hills team. The three kids happen to be stars on the Wayne Hills team. Even more astounding was that the tip came from the superintendent of the Wayne Hills school district.
Sure enough, within a matter of hours, the Wayne Hills team was suspended and forced to sacrifice all of its wins this year due to the infraction. And of course, no playoffs. In effect, Wayne Hills was done for this season.
The team and the parents of the kids on the football were understandably outraged. they protested, got a lawyer, and appealed to the NJ Commissioner of Education, who agreed that the family in question hadn’t been given due process to prove their case that the three brothers were legit, e.g that they were living legally within the school district. In short, the Wayne Hills football program got a temporary break. But they had to go through a formal decision process.
But it was until late Tuesday of this past week when that final hearing was heard and the Wayne Hills football was fully reinstated and allowed to go back and play football in the playoffs. You can just imagine the sense of relief for everybody in that school: the superintendent (who, by the way, was obliged to report any perceived rules violations, the athletic director, principal, coaches, and so on).
According to Patrick Lanni of NJ.com, who was covering this case, the key evidence turned on the fact the three brothers have been living in a one-bedroom apartment with their father for the last two years. It’s a rented apartment within the school district, and they had the paperwork to show that rent had been paid. And although it sounds more than a little cramped with four guys living in a one-bedroom, it was ruled to be legitimate.
No question this was a major hassle for everyone involved. But let’s take a step back. There was a time when HS students transferred because their entire family moved to a different town or locale. And the kids in the family enrolled in the local school. Or perhaps a family enrolled a child in a private or parochial because they wanted a different kind of education for their kid.
But let’s be candid. These days, I would venture that most of the transfers that occur are done by kids (with the full support of their parents) to find a better opportunity in order to showcase their athletic skills. In short, it’s less about the education and more about the athletic opportunities. Even worse, state governing bodies just don’t have the manpower to keep track of all these kids, many of whom not only transfer once but two or three times in their HS career.
The time has come to sit down and to review and rewrite the transfer rules. In preparing for my show this week, I checked on the rules in California and Florida. Trust me, the rule books are incredibly opaque and difficult to read. And there are plenty of exceptions to each rule.
So here’s what I suggest we do:
Go back and rewrite the transfer rules so that anyone can understand them.
Sounds obvious, but in most states, you need a law degree to figure these rules out.
Put the responsibility on the school districts to check on all the athletes on their teams and make sure they are all legit.
You can’t expect the state’s governing body to check on each and every transfer. But the school should. That would include the coaching staff, the guidance department, and the athletic department. Make the effort to make sure each kid is actually living full-time in the district. If you don’t, then you bear the full responsibility.
Put real teeth into punishing the kid’s parents.
No HS kid is going to transfer into another school without his or her parents’ support. If it appears that the parent is simply trying to advance their kid’s athletic career AND the parent is working through loopholes with a transfer, punish the parent! Levy a major fine or consider some other kind of serious penalty. Remember, if their kid is caught in a lie, then the entire team is reprimanded harshly. Let that hard punishment start with the parent.
Is this easy?
No, of course not. But as more and more sports parents try and position their kid for a college scholarship by changing HS via a transfer, it’s time to cut through all the clutter and make the system functional and fair for everyone.