Transfers by students for athletic reasons is a chronic, nationwide, reputation-damaging nuisance for high school sports.
It’s not a new issue. The Michigan High School Athletic Association has been toughening transfer rules repeatedly for 35 years. Unfortunately, many schools do not use the tools that already exist to delay or deny athletic eligibility to students who transfer for athletic-motivated or related reasons.
It’s not unique to Michigan. Every state we contact – whether it has the same rules, tougher or weaker – cites transfer troubles. Unfortunately, some states which pushed their rules too far have lost them altogether because of pushback from lawyers and legislators and the growing school choice movement that advocates transfers any time to any place for any reason.
Statistically, total transfers are few, and student-athlete transfers are a very small percentage of those. But when the extremely few high-profile athletes in high-profile sports switch schools for sports, and those schools experience increased success, it grabs headlines, generates social media chatter and batters the brand of educational athletics, which is supposed to put school before sports and promote competitive equity between school teams.
Over the past decade, in response to concerns similar to ours, our counterpart organization in Ohio has seen its transfer rule come and go and return again. The current rule is tougher on those who have participated in school sports in 9th grade or beyond, as opposed to those students who have not; but the list of exceptions to the one year of ineligibility for past participants is now up to ten categories. The result is a rule in Ohio that differs little from our own in Michigan.
Our counterpart organization in Indiana averages about 4,200 students who transfer each year out of approximately 160,000 students who participate on interscholastic athletic teams each year. That’s just 2.6 percent. For the current school year, through Jan. 31, 2017 ...
680 transfers never played school sports before and were eligible immediately;
944 transfers made a bona fide change of residence and were eligible immediately;
14 transfer students were ruled ineligible at any and all levels.
While the perception may be of an epidemic, the actual percentage of transferring student-athletes is a small fraction of a small fraction. Of course, that percentage may increase, and the perception get even worse, as the team-hopping, non-school sports mentality further infects school sports.
Still, reluctance remains among leadership here and in our counterpart organizations across the country toward adoption of tougher rules to govern such small percentages of students when there is at least as much clamor for more exceptions to existing rules, and significant reluctance to use the tools that current rules provide to clamp down on athletic-motivated and related transfers.