Help Coming For Tracking International Students

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.2, February/March 2002,

Starting this fall, an athletic director trying to determine whether a particular international or foreign-exchange student is eligible for interscholastic sports will get a helping hand. The National Federation of State High School Associations' (NFHS) Task Force on Foreign Exchange and International Students has drafted and pilot-tested a form that helps clarify these students' athletic backgrounds.

The form reveals whether the student in question has ever been paid to play, had an agent, or been part of a club or national-team developmental program, and would list his or her coaches and academic record.

The NFHS board approved the form in January, and it will be available for member associations and their schools this fall, says Task Force Chairman David Fry, who is also Executive Director of the Illinois High School Association.

Fry's task force was organized in the spring of 2001 as concerns were growing over student-athletes coming to America not for cultural exchange or to further their educations, but solely to take advantage of U.S. high school athletics on the way to a college scholarship or pro career. Some of these athletes had contracts with agents, were recruited by high school or college coaches, or had enrolled in schools despite having already completed secondary educations in their native countries.

The task force also wrote a model rule designed to bring state-to-state uniformity regarding the eligibility of such student-athletes, and has suggested creating a database of such information to further help schools dealing with athletes from other countries. But the data-gathering form, to be filled-out by international and foreign-exchange students seeking to take part in athletics, is a first step. It is intended to aid administrators in spotting any red flags about their eligibility.

"It would help principals know, 'Here's a kid we probably ought to keep our hands off because it looks like he or she is coming solely for athletic participation and it looks like that's been orchestrated by somebody,'" Fry says.

"I think part of the difficulty in the past was a basic presumption that everybody comes here for purely the right motives," Fry continues. "This is an attempt to give us some more intelligent information with which we can make evaluations and ultimately decisions on the eligibility of those kids."

The form was tested this past fall by a handful of state associations. Some administrators found it a bit cumbersome, but most also judged it worthwhile. In Florida, for example, administrators found the form more detailed than the one they had used previously, and it helped them find 15 international students deemed ineligible.

With the input from testing states, the task force cut the form from seven to four pages and designed it with ease of use in mind, Fry says. It will be printable on a single sheet of 11 by 17-inch paper that can be easily made into a simple brochure and put online, which is how the Illinois association will make it available.

Meanwhile, Fry's task force has also written the first draft of a model eligibility rule for international and exchange students. The goal is a consistent standard for handling eligibility so that a youngster ruled unable to play in Ohio, for example, couldn't simply head to Arkansas, Illinois, or North Dakota to find a school at which to play.

The structure of a database of information on foreign students is to be determined, and implementing it will largely be up to the NFHS staff, Fry says. One major issue to be tackled is the legal ramifications surrounding the database. "Asking the students to provide you information is one thing," says Fry. "Storing and utilizing that information is another thing when it comes to student records. We're looking at the legality of releasing the information."

The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) raised another concern: Its goal of placing exchange students in host U.S. schools without any regard to athletics may conflict with the directive to watch for signs of potential abuse. Some CSIET members pointed out that it may be hard to remain objective about where exchange students will be placed when they are forced to have information about students' athletic past in front of them.

"I think that's a valid concern," Fry says, "and we want to take a hard look to see if we can find ways to work around it and still get the information that we believe state associations need to make good eligibility decisions," Fry says.

The task force is also producing a brochure about American high school athletics. Its main message is that participating in sports is not automatic for all U.S. high school students, but that standards have to be met, Fry says.

For a look at an article published in Athletic Management last year on this topic, please visit and type "Round the World" into the search engine.