OPINION: NJSIAA proposal to allow one “free transfer” to all is a long time coming, and a step in the right direction

Full disclaimer: this is not a hot take.

Most people who know me know that when I’ve got an idea, I’ll tell anyone who will listen. Twice, if they let me.

So when a certain coach I know messaged me Wednesday afternoon to say the NJSIAA “stole” my idea, I had to wonder what it was.

As it turns out, per a published report out today by the USA Today Network, the NJSIAA has a proposal in the works that would allow all student-athletes, regardless of gender, sport or level – freshman, JV, or varsity – one transfer within their high school career without penalty. They would not need to have a bona fide change of address, a rule which has been the standard for many years now, and which also often has proven too difficult to enforce.

Any additional transfers, however, would be subject to the typical 30-day sit-out rule, while seniors would only have to sit out 15 days, per the report.

There are still more hurdles to clear, but in all honesty, it’s about time.

For one, the NJSIAA doesn’t have the personnel to track every single case. And we all know some schools find ways around the rules, both public and private.

I’ve been saying for a year or two now that the idea that kids don’t transfer for athletic advantage needs to be thrown out the window. It’s happening, and will continue to happen. Even when they enroll in a non-public school at the start of ninth grade, and sometimes even when they legitimately move from one town to another. Most times, it’s not about academics.

Everyone knows this. So why keep up the charade?

This proposal – though perhaps not directly – acknowledges that theory.

As I have been saying: “Let them transfer. Everyone gets a free pass – once. After that, if they want to transfer willy-nilly, it’s on them.”

But the proposed rule is also about equity. It levels the playing field: no more advantage to the schools that kind find the loophole.

And, it fits with the national trend – like it or not – of the student-athlete’s rights. It began in the college ranks, with NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) rules, and is filtering down to the high school level.

Meanwhile, per the report, the NJSIAA wants to focus more on illegal recruiting, and punishing the adults involved, not the players. This is also a step in the right direction.

It’s also likely a much less prevalent problem than the copious amount of transfers seen in New Jersey – 242 with more than one move over the past three years, according to the report – as not all of those involve recruiting. And determining whether a coach or administrator took part in recruiting is much easier than determining where a student-athlete’s primary residence is.

To the NJSIAA, and its membership, the new transfer rule is a great idea, and we hope to see it work its way through the system and become official in 2023-24.

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