The California Interscholastic Federation has revised the language in its bylaws to allow athletically motivated transfers.
The revision passed with a 7-3 vote among the state’s 10 section commissioners, with the opposition residing in the north. Those that stood against the revision were the Sac-Joaquin, North Coast and Northern sections.
“There is a prevailing thought the kids should go to their local, neighborhood schools, and for the most part, they do,” said Will DeBoard, the Sac-Joaquin Section’s assistant commissioner, in a written statement to The Bee. “Denials because of this rule are very rare within the SJS; we get maybe 15-20 cases like this a year.”
So what really changed with the vote?
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Fundamentally, very little. The bones remain, DeBoard says.
Athletes who transfer, but don’t move into the new school’s boundaries, must sit out approximately 50 percent of the season. The sit-out period applies only to the athlete’s first transfer. The penalty steepens to a year-long suspension in each sport they’ve played over the last 12 months with each subsequent transfer.
Undue influence remains a big no-no. Athletes are prohibited from following a coach or players to a new school, and likewise, coaches aren’t allowed to recruit talent.
“There is still a sit-out period for this type of transfer. I don’t think this will have much of an impact at all,” Central Valley athletic director Greg Magni said. “What were the actual reasons kids were transferring before this?”
All that changes is how the move is reported in the public sphere. It’s no longer against the rules for an athlete to admit the transfer best served their athletic wants, not their academic needs.
As Pitman football coach Tom Tyler stated, “Now parents won’t have to make something up in order to go where they want to go.”
“Before this, there were always ways to get around the concept of it being an athletically motivated transfer, as long as they focused on another aspect of the high school,” Pitman athletic director Dave Walls said. “If you said you want to move because you don’t like this coach or this program … people have always been doing it and they’ve been able to work around the specifics of it.”
The most famous case in the Stanislaus District regarding the sit-out rule involved Rey Vega, the star running back who left Davis to play at Central Catholic in 2012. The section decreed the move was athletically motivated and Vega missed the first six games of the season. It hardly mattered, as Vega still rushed for more than 1,500 yards and helped lead the Raiders to their first of four consecutive state championships.
Another high-profile transfer case unfolded in the fall, when senior Will Semone left Central Catholic in favor of Oakdale.
Semone did not have to sit out because he did not play football the year before. In essence, that made Semone, a Modesto native, a free agent and set in motion the greatest individual season by a Stanislaus District running back. Semone rushed for a District record 2,851 yards and carried the Mustangs to their first state championship.
“I have always felt that a family should have every right to relocate and live in a community of their choosing and enjoy all of the benefits that the community has to offer, regardless of motivation,” Oakdale football coach Trent Merzon said.
What impact will this rule revision have on the Stanislaus District? Reaction is mixed.
Downey High football and baseball coach Jeremy Plaa believes this could widen the divide between “the have and have-not schools.”
No greater chasm exists than in the Modesto Metro Conference, where two downtrodden athletic programs – Davis and Johansen – will be moved out of conference and down in division at the start of the 2018-19 school year because of poor competitive equity and dwindling enrollment.
Meanwhile, the same high schools seemingly dominate the MMC season to season and sport to sport: Beyer (football, basketball, baseball, wrestling); Gregori (football, baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball); Enochs (volleyball, girls soccer) and Modesto (football, soccer).
“I think it’s hard to say what the impact will be,” said Plaa, who has led the Downey football team to five consecutive Modesto Metro Conference titles.
“The 30-day sit-out period will still be in effect, so I doubt this new rule will encourage more transfers. I do worry that the gap between the have and have-not schools will widen even further, though.”
In the case of the MMC, Modesto City Schools administrators still wield some power in the case of transfers.
“There certainly is an athletic disparity between certain schools,” DeBoard said. “We saw that during our realignment meetings. … What’s to stop kids from transferring to a perceived “better” athletic school instead of the one in their neighborhood? First, the district has the power to stop any kids from transferring around. In the northern half of our section, we have a couple of districts that have effectively closed open-enrollment within their own schools.”
Gregori High football coach Jason McCoy has grown tired of families working the system in hopes of finding “greener pastures” for their son or daughter.
On one of the youngest campuses in the Stanislaus District, McCoy is trying to establish tradition by fostering a sense of pride and accountability. He wants student-athletes who are focused on the process, not those with one eye on the open market.
Any player who isn’t committed to the cause should be free to go, McCoy says.
“I want my players at Gregori to be competitive in the classroom and on the athletic field, and be proud to represent our school,” he said. “If they think the grass is greener on the other side, then best of luck to them. I think too many times families can find ways to cheat the system and the ones filling out the CIF paperwork truthfully get punished.”
McCoy isn’t alone.
Several coaches believe the ruling empowers “The Entitlement Era,” eroding at the fundamental purpose of sport. For Central Catholic, that purpose is stitched onto every uniform: “We,” not me.
“I’m not young anymore. I’m 54 and been coaching 32 years. I was always brought up to do what’s best for the team, not what’s best for you,” Central Catholic football coach Roger Canepa said. “It’s about the team and your teammates. If you’re a part of a winning team, that was enough. It wasn’t about the number of tackles you made or how many yards you had receiving, or how many yards you had rushing. It was about the team.
“That’s my issue. I’m a team guy. We’re in an era of ‘What’s good for me?’ It’s entitlement. We all get trophies and we all get plaques. Them days are over, buddy.”
Ripon High football coach Chris Musseman questions the message. By allowing athletes to shop for the right “fit,” what is the CIF teaching them? That it’s OK to cut bait when the water gets a little rocky?
“Our primary job is the education of the students. When athletics becomes the driving force, that has been lost,” Musseman said. “I always thought of them as student-athletes, not athlete-students. This will have a major impact in our area.
“The lessons learned through hard work and overcoming adversity will be lost. It’s like hitting the reset button on a video game. If it gets hard, just start over. I think you will see a lot of quality educators leaving coaching. The focus will not be building character, it will only be winning. Don’t get me wrong, we all are competitive and want to win. It just should not be the main focus. … This decision will change the school cultures throughout the area.”