The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association spent months debating and developing a new rule that toughened sanctions on nearly all athletes who transferred from one high school to another.
Now, the NJSIAA must start over.
Acting state Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington struck down the NJSIAA rule this week. She criticized the new transfer rule as “overbroad and overreaching.”
In a statement released Thursday morning, NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said the organization was not discouraged by the ruling.
“While the NJSIAA Executive Committee was eager to have a more enforceable transfer rule, the association remains encouraged and looks forward to working with the commissioner of education to develop a solution that discourages transfers for athletic advantage,” Timko said. “Our hope is to meet with the commissioner as soon as possible to address this important issue.”
The new rule, which the NJSIAA executive committee passed in February by a 25-9-1 vote, would have taken effect July 1 and done the following:
• Required nearly all athletes who transfer to a new school, even those who play junior varsity or freshman sports, to sit 30 days from the start of the regular season.
• Required nearly all athletes who transfer after the first scrimmage is played to sit 30 days and sit out the state tournament.
• Required transfers who are multisport athletes to sit 30 days in each sport they play.
• There was no appeal process.
• Transfers found to have switched schools for athletic advantage could be banned for an entire school year.
The current rule, which will stay in effect, allows athletes who transfer due to a bonafide change of residence to play immediately. The NJSIAA, which governs most high school sports in the state, defines a bonafide change of residence as a move from one public school district to another. Athletes who transfer without moving must sit the season’s first 30 days.
The NJSIAA, however, has argued that the bonafide change of residence rule is too difficult to enforce and too easy for athletes and schools to circumvent. The transfer of athletes is one of the biggest problems facing New Jersey high school sports. The transfer of a high-profile athlete can create a tremendous amount of acrimony between schools.
Critics of the rejected new rules said they would have unfairly punished athletes who moved for legitimate reasons. Under the new rule, an athlete who moved from another state to New Jersey because a parent changed jobs would have been ineligible.
The state education commissioner has the power to review and approve certain NJSIAA rules. Harrington wrote that the new rule failed to take into account legitimate reasons for student transfers that may be beyond their control.
“The Proposed Transfer Rule may arguably solve the issue of recruitment, (but) it does so at the expense of many other students who have not been subject to recruitment or transferred for athletic advantage,” Harrington wrote.
This is not the first time an attempt to toughen the transfer rule has failed. New Jersey high schools voted against a proposal in 2014 that would increased sanctions on athletes who transferred without moving.
The NJSIAA required all athletes who transferred without a bonafide change of residence to sit an entire school year in 2008-09. The NJSIAA scrapped that rule and went back to the 30-day waiting period in spring 2010 because of the high number of appeals.
It is unclear where the NJSIAA will go after this week’s ruling. Its attempts to make things tougher on athletic transfers comes at a time when the state is trying to provide all students more school choice through the rise of charter schools and the interdistrict public school choice program.
Absegami athletic director and Cape-Atlantic League president Steve Fortis said he was both surprised and yet not surprised by the commissioner’s decision. He said the decision was somewhat disappointing because there was a representative of the state Department of Education on the NJSIAA committee that developed the new rules.
“They want parents to have options and more choices,” Fortis said. “But at the same time, how do guard against using that for the wrong reasons? It’s one thing to say I want my kid to get the best education, and it’s another thing to say I want them to play on the best football team. There’s no way to address that under the current setup.”