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The Philadelphia Inquirer


The good news about the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's new proposal to "restore integrity to high school sports" is also the bad news.

Which tells you all you need to know about scholastic sports in 2017.

The NJSIAA on Friday released a proposal from its Public/Non-Public committee designed to toughen the organization's transfer rule and stem the "constant flow" of team-jumping for athletic advantage.

Under the plan that still must be approved on two readings by the NJSIAA's executive committee, any student-athlete who transfers - whether they were a star at the varsity level or a deep substitute on the freshman team - must sit out 30 days or half the season, whichever is less, at their new school.

Student-athletes who transfer after the start of scrimmages, or who transfer more than once, are subject to the 30-day sit and also will be ineligible for the state tournament.

"We felt like it's gotten to the point where there's a constant flow of transfers and that it was hurting the integrity of high school sports," said NJSIAA project manager Mike Zapicchi, the chair of the Public/Non-Public committee.

The good news is that athletes who transfer for athletic advantage - and there are a lot of them - will be subjected to a significant loss of playing time and might be discouraged from making the move in the first place.

But that's also bad news because it's such a necessary deterrent.

That's because high school sports in some unfortunate ways has become an extension of a parent-driven, AAU-fueled, youth-sports culture where players regularly jump ship in search of a "better situation" and where patience and loyalty and team-first sacrifice are yesterday's news.

Or last century's news.

Let's not overstate things. The sky isn't falling. There still are a lot of people - coaches, parents, players, administrators - with the proper perspective on this stuff.

There still are a lot of folks with the sense to understand that school-sponsored sports is part of the educational process and that there are important lessons to be learned through the adversity that sometimes arises in competitive situations.

Like, maybe there's something to be gained by sitting on the bench and waiting your turn.

Like, maybe there's value in playing under a demanding coach who doesn't allow you to cut corners or do things "your" way.

Like, maybe it's not the worst thing in the world to learn how to deal with losing some games.

Zapicchi and other members of the committee aren't out of touch. They are correct in their baseline premise that transfer athletes are making a bigger impact than ever on scholastic sports, especially in football and boys' basketball.

They felt compelled to do something to discourage the brazen gaming of the NJSIAA's current transfer rule, with its "bona fide change of address" loophole that's wide enough to drive a stretch limo through - with a whole new starting five in the backseat - at twice the speed limit.

Which brings us to the rest of the bad news.

This is fact: The overwhelming majority of student-athletes who transfer don't do it in hopes of more playing time or operating in a better offensive system or finding a coach who "understands" them or hooking up with their new best friends from their latest travel team.

They do it because their family moved to a new town. That happens every day. Or because one of their parents got a new job in a different location. That happens every day, too.

Or because of financial hardship. Or because Mom and Dad split. Or because of any number of reasons that have zero to do with playing time or coaching style or friends with parents who whisper about the better situation at this other high school.

And all of those student athletes - stars or subs, sophomore or seniors - will be forced to sit out 30 days of the season, with no option to appeal.

Zapicchi said the committee "spent most of our time" wrestling with the knowledge that the proposal would have a significant punitive impact on the vast majority of student-athletes who transfer for reasons other than athletic advantage.

"Our feeling is they can still practice with the team, they can still be part of the team, and after 30 days they can play," Zapicchi said.

A rule that punishes innocent student-athletes is not a good rule.

That's the bad news.

But it's probably necessary, given the state of scholastic sports in 2017.

That's the worse news.

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January 8, 2017


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