A question at a school board forum got Sports Editor Justin Kline thinking.
It seems I can’t go anywhere in town without something in my beat coming back to me.
One of the last places where I expected to think about my Sports section was the school board candidates’ forum Thursday, July 14. Toward the end of the initial line of questioning, there was the prompt I became most interested in: Would you support the loss of a year of eligibility for “Choice in Sports” transfer students?
I’ve written about this bill in the past and, as many of you know, my opinion is that it was a terrible idea from the start. The candidates seemed to agree, though some admitted it may not be possible to impose an NCAA-esque eligibility loss.
Still, the question intrigued me for two reasons.
First, there’s the matter of the prompt itself. There may not be a way to impose such a penalty on the kids, but let’s get hypothetical and imagine the school board could do something about it. Should it?
In my opinion, a loss of eligibility is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it would certainly be a useful tool to discourage parents (and kids) from taking advantage of the new rule to get their kids into an athletic powerhouse overnight. No one, especially juniors and seniors, would like to lose a full year of athletic participation if they’re set on playing their sport in college.
The topic of high school seniors losing a year wasn’t brought up at the forum, so I don’t know if they would have been included in anyone’s ideal punishment scenario, but I would imagine that nearly any incoming senior would rather stay at their school than lose that last year. If seniors would be exempt from the penalty, I still think many would opt to stick around — if only for the relationships they’ve built over three years, the pride they have for their schools or their desire to try and make something good happen with the boys and girls they came up through the program with.
On the other hand, we’re not talking about college kids. If you lose a year of eligibility in college, you have the option of making it up as a graduate student. Or, in some cases, players can use their grad-student status to transfer to another school without losing any eligibility.
In high school, you don’t get the opportunity of a fifth year unless you flunk and, for the kids who plan on attending college, flunking is not an option. That’s also before taking age requirements into account: a fifth-year student likely would be prevented from playing high school sports because of their age. I make this assumption because it’s the reason Lake Region High School in Eagle Lake made the FHSAA football playoffs while I was a student there.
And it’s not like the kids are losing a year because they got into serious trouble — they just wanted to transfer, which isn’t exactly a sin.
So, if it were up to me, I’d stagger the punishment for freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and seniors would get the exemption. Freshmen could deal with losing three quarters of a season, as could sophomores with half a season and juniors with one quarter.
The other thing that intrigued me about the prompt was how the rule would affect my coverage of sports going forward.
I’ve covered certain transfers in depth in the past because I felt the students in question were important in some way. For example: a football team losing its budding star quarterback to a crosstown rival is, in my opinion, newsworthy.
I know firsthand that my coverage of transfers hasn’t sat well with everyone, particularly with coaches. Countering my angle of newsworthiness is the belief that kids were transferring just because they wanted to play for a better team or didn’t want to work as hard, and such behavior shouldn’t be glorified in the news. We have differing opinions of what it means to “glorify” someone, but I do understand why coaches feel the way they do.
And that was back when athletes were governed by transfer requirements. Now, things are different.
Because athletes now have free reign to go wherever they please, the significance of the individual transfer has been watered down. And this isn’t the NFL, where talent tends to beat schemes. I don’t feel the need to take every individual transfer and turn a story from it now, since we’re definitely going to see a lot more kids transfer just because they feel like it.
But I’ll still be noting transfers in my coverage. I couldn’t give you all a complete season preview, for example, if I ignored transfers because coaches from the kids’ former teams were upset. But I’m sticking to my belief that “Choice in Sports” not only watered down the importance of transfer requirements, but also the importance of the athletes’ decisions to transfer for the heck of it.
Contact Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.