Athletic Management, 17.5, August/September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1705/wunochild.htm
Whether they call it school shopping, school hopping, or athletically motivated transferring, most state associations have rules to keep students from changing high schools in search of a better athletic experience. The federal government’s 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, however, is throwing a curve ball at many states’ long-held transfer eligibility policies.
Most state associations require a waiting period before a non-NCLB transfer student is eligible to play sports, varying from 30 days to a year. Under NCLB, if a school fails to meet academic progress goals for two consecutive years, students must be given the option of transferring to a better-performing school and participating in any activities the school has to offer. Most states allow such transfer students immediate athletic eligibility at their new school.
Some athletic administrators fear that the law opens a loophole ripe for abuse. They suspect high school athletes who are dissatisfied with their current sports team or disgruntled with a coach, or who have rendered themselves ineligible at one school, will use NCLB as an opportunity to transfer.
“Athletic directors across the country have brought the issue to our attention,” says Kristen Blankenship, Publications Specialist with the National Federation of State High School Associations. “The general feeling is that NCLB is masking athletically-motivated transfers in some cases. It’s not a huge problem yet, but many administrators think it could grow, particularly in urban areas where there are many schools to choose from.”
Texas is one state that has faced issues with NCLB and student-athletes. In that state, non-NCLB students who transfer without their parents making a corresponding change in residence are held out of athletics for one calendar year, while students who transfer under NCLB are granted immediate eligibility, explains Bill Farney, Executive Director of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which governs Texas high school athletics. NCLB transfers are not immediately eligible, however, if evidence indicates that the move was made for athletic reasons—a distinction that can be difficult to make and can lead to battles with parents.
Two such cases came before the UIL’s executive committee during the 2004-05 school year. The first involved senior basketball player Leggette Liner, who used NCLB to leave Carrollton R.L. Turner High School for Carrollton Creekview High School in October. Turner administrators alleged Liner transferred for athletic reasons, and he was denied eligibility. After an investigation, the UIL’s executive committee agreed that the transfer was athletically motivated and did not reinstate his eligibility.
In a separate case, soccer player Scotty Taylor transferred between the same two high schools under NCLB. Taylor had his eligibility reinstated after the executive committee ruled that allegations he moved for athletic reasons didn’t stand up to investigation.
The job of ensuring NCLB doesn’t become a back door for sports-based school shopping largely falls to individual athletic directors, according to Farney. He feels that administrators need to take a careful look at each NCLB transfer and evaluate situations individually.
“Check with the coaches of any sports the child participated in at his or her old school,” Farney advises. “See if there were ongoing issues of dissatisfaction or displays of emotion or anger. If you uncover concerns, ask the parents to come in and tell their side of the story.
“I would also verify any information you are given,” Farney continues. “Sometimes coaches allege an athletic transfer because a kid is a good athlete and they don’t want to lose him or her. If you have any questions about what you are hearing, don’t hesitate to access whatever system is in place in your state to get a neutral party to hear the case.”
To help with the evaluation process in Texas, the UIL has developed a “previous participation form,” which must be signed by both the athletic director at the school the student is leaving and the athletic director at his or her new school. If administrators determine that the transfer was athletically motivated, parents have the option of taking their case before the local District Executive Committee of the UIL, which is made up of six to 10 local administrators. If parents are not satisfied with the outcome of that hearing, they can take their appeal to the State Executive Committee.
So far, individual state associations have been the final word on the subject, since no cases testing NCLB and athletic eligibility have proceeded to legal action. “Parents have threatened to take the issue to court, but to my knowledge no one has succeeded yet,” Farney says. “I think that this is going to continue to be an issue. As more students transfer under NCLB, there will be more cases where the law is exploited. Individual districts will need to do a good job of scrutinizing transfers to keep this issue in check.”