Recruiting & Transferring In West Virginia Prep Athletics (OPINION)

A dirty secret that does not discriminate against class, sport, or region- recruiting and transferring is an occurrence across the entire country and is not something new. It can seem that way with the rise of the internet and social media as if its a generational change, but as any veteran coach can attest, this is nothing new. However, there are certain dynamics, reasons, and tools that are new and might need to be dealt with. Here we will lay out what we consider is a reasonable transfer and illegal recruitment, the current rules that are supposed to be followed, the gray area which makes it so difficult to combat, and a proposed solutions. It is to be noted that these opinions are not directed towards specific players, schools, or incidents nor do we condone the harassment of players/coaches involved in past incidents on our website or social media. There are ways to handle disputes without dragging parents, coaches, and players on the internet especially without the full details or other side.

Defining Reasonable Transfer & Illegal Recruitment

What constitutes an objectively reasonable transfer? Well, of course, the first is an address relocation. This is obvious but can be easily twisted as we will expand on below. If a child moves with his family across the state there should not be a reason they cannot play at their new school. The second is if a school offers an educational opportunity (certain programs) that their current school does not provide; it seems reasonable to be able to move schools in this scenario. However, this too can be manipulated.

So, what is considered recruiting? This can be subjective but we think it can be agreed that anytime a player or parent is contacted by a coach/booster from another team/school and some sort of promise or persuasion is made, that is recruiting. This is already illegal and if evidence is provided, usually punished. The most potent form of recruiting might come via players amongst each other talking. There is not a great a way to stop this nor should this be the point of emphasis when trying to dissuade recruitment regulations.

We understand there are many reasons for kids transferring. Sometimes it involves relatives being at other schools and sometimes it truly is one of the reasons listed above as an honest transfer. But, sometimes, let’s not kid ourselves here… when a star athlete transfers to a nearby school when a certain season ends or is about to begin, we all know what took place. Instead of dragging the people involved, let’s just work towards rules that prevent this in the future. Is it really fair to completely attack people who are using the guidelines that have been bent and used for years now?

Why is this a problem?

There are several negatives to allowing such lenient transferring within athletics. This involves fairness within competition, community pride, and tearing down the life lessons football is supposed to instill. Obviously, if a school is left unchecked bringing in kids from all over, their sports teams might see improvement. In some cases, major improvement. For schools that play by the rules, they might see themselves playing all star teams which results in the same behavior to stay competitive. This can quickly create a toxic cycle.

This is not great for community pride. The same way consolidation can sever program pride ties, seeing kids, who played all the way up with one team on their chest just exchange it for another their junior or senior year, is a bit disheartening. For the schools that bring in outside talent whether actively or in a “build it and they will come” way, how does it feel to players who have been loyal from youth league up losing their starting position to a transfer? Once again, the competitive nature overrides the fun and dignity surrounding high school sports.

Finally, in a philosophical way, football is supposed to teach young men life lessons they can use when the sport is over. In life, if the other team is better, you have to band together, work hard, and beat them. Not join them after the season. Or, if you are displeased with your role, you can’t just quit and leave (you can but you will be jobless), but you must embrace the competition and try to beat your fellow man out thus making you both better. If, by the end of it, you are not better, then you find your role and adapt. That is life. You cannot transfer your problems and trials. Don’t get us started on players transferring down to play weaker competition.

Current Rules Against Illegal Transfers

The athletic transfer rules apply for all sports. Going from your eighth grade to ninth grade year, a kid is allowed to attend any school of their choice (children in the same household must go to the same school). This is their home school. At this point, if they want to transfer schools they must make a physical move or else they will have to sit out 365 days from all athletics. There can be appeals made to allow participation under certain circumstances.

Issues arise when these rules are bent or left unattended to avoid lawsuits or a scene. The secrets are no longer secrets. Simplified, people put up their house for sale while renting or owning another within the desired school’s district. Or, find an educational program that is not offered at your current school then use that as the exception to the rule as a transfer despite passing up several closer schools who offer it as well.

It should be noted that in the rulebook that transferring for athletic purposes is illegal. It’s just liable for lawsuits and fights when deciding what constitutes a pure athletic purpose transfer versus a possible legitimate move. The fear is that the bending and the refusal to hold up rules might see a the situation dissolve to an environment like Florida’s current high school football status. Tons of legendary high school coaches are seen moving out due to the toxic, unwanted, and frustratingly corrupt system that has kids attending up to four or five high schools in four years. Let’s not let it get this far.

The Gray Area

So far it might appear as if we are blatantly and completely anti-transfer. That is not true. There are definitely times and aspects where it seems reasonable to make a move outside of the ones we listed as obvious. For instance, if a small school player might have big-time next level potential, who are we or a board to disallow him the opportunity to attend a school where Division One coaches come through daily, where scouts attend multiple practices and games, and where there are coaches who have helped put players on the highest level. Though displeasing and not always ideal, we can see a solid athletic reason in a player attempting to challenge himself on the higher level. Also, unstable programs with a revolving door of coaches. However, this decision could have been made in eighth grade.

Another gray area is assuming that certain sports are the ones doing the recruiting. Players, often times good football players as most good athletes are, might have been lured into leaving by their AAU friends or coaches from other sports. Often times, the football staffs are the ones who have to answer for a kid who potentially transferred for basketball or baseball. This perspective applies to any school with a high-level program in one of the large sports but the others being low-level.

Finally, perhaps most obvious, is it really fair to decide whether a family truly moved or not? Do we know the full situation? Could they be temporarily moving for a reason much more serious than just athletics? In this case, we always preach to do any challenging off the internet. If you suspect a problem or any illegality, take it the SSAC, principals, or superintendents- they are the ones who have say-so. Dragging players, parents, and coaches for a situation you don’t know the full extent of is unfair, spiteful, and should be sneered at just as much as illegal transfers.

Potential Solutions

We have heard many potential changes which could clean up the system. Hear us out and feel free to comment your ideas and opinions on why it might not work. Here is the best combined proposal we have found:

  • Keep the “home school” rule: eighth graders and their families can decide whatever school they want to attend going into high school
  • Establish a non-transfer 35-mile radius around each school: players, no matter what (even with physical moves) must sit out 365 days in athletics if transferring to a school within 35 miles. This radius would apply to border schools and players coming from out-of-state as well
  • Have concrete guidelines for the appeal board: no budging on moving addresses, but situations with education program offers can be observed; no bypassing closer schools for educational programs
  • Apply these rules to everyone: no special privileges on transfers in athletics for the biggest schools, no geographical exceptions for dense areas, and every school in the SSAC, including private and Catholic schools, must abide by these rules

We believe with this ruleset above, it would deter players from transferring for strictly athletic purposes. The move radius is fair but could be adjusted of course with more in-depth research. If the move had nothing to do with athletics then why is it too much to drive 15 minutes in the other direction? If its about academics, the appeal process can decide if its legitimate.

The ultimate idea here is concrete rules. Leaving too much up for judgement puts too many people in tough positions. They open themselves up for lawsuits and battles. Establishing a strict boundary and applying the rules to everyone does not allow for loopholes nor does it allow certain schools to threaten with legal action.

At the end of the day, it is up to the superintendents and principals to clear transfers. The SSAC has a say too but the law of education overrides an athletic organization. Being organized and vocal while avoiding personal slander is the best way to combat potential illegal actions. We just want to see teams playing with their players and not have a system evolve that takes away from the game and all the positive lessons that come with football. We would like the game to stay honest and fair and the game it can be.

What’s your opinion?

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