ROBBINSVILLE, NJ – The somewhat never ending saga of the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association’s student-athlete transfer rule might have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.
Members of the NJSIAA Executive Committee voted in an overwhelming majority (27-7-0) to accept a new transfer policy that would mandate a 30-day sit-out period for all student-athletes that change schools during the first reading of the proposal at the committee’s monthly meeting on Jan. 11.
“I think this is something that has been an issue at NJSIAA,” Executive Director Steve Timko said. “I have been here for 17 years and I was an AD for 25 years before that and its been a problem. It was a year at one time when I started. It went back [to 30 days]. Then it went to a year again and it went back. We needed to address the situation and I think [project manager Mike Zapicchi] and the committee did a great job.”
“I think this will hurt the public school students,” said Union High School Director of Athletics Linda Ionta. “It hurts any Union student that wants to come back here after an experience elsewhere. They should be able to come back without a penalty.”
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who is also the Hackensack High School Football Coach, and Paterson recreation director, warned of "adverse effects" on students and athletic programs. In a letter to the NJSIAA Wimberly said, "A student-athletes' family may live in a high-crime area and want to move in order to experience a better quality of life." "Under the proposed rule, that student-athlete would be barred from participating in competition for 30-days simply because their family desired a better quality of life for them."
Wimberly also pointed to the fact that such a small amount of student athletes even transfer. "To enforce such a stringent rule to address less than 1% of the student-athlete population in an effort to 'reduce the movement of student-athletes for athletic advantage' would have wholly unfair and extreme effects on the high school sports programs across the state" said Wimberly.
Zapicchi and NJSIAA executive committee president Elaine McGrath led the 23-member Public/Non-Public Committee that was tasked with dissecting the current policy and formulating the new proposed rule.
According to the proposed policy, all student athletes, regardless of level of play (varsity or junior varsity), “who transfer from one secondary school to another shall be subject to a 30-day period of ineligibility, or one half of the maximum number of games allowed in the sport by NJSIAA rules, whichever is less, in each sport in which the student participated” in at their last school.
A student’s ineligibility would begin on the official start date of the regular season. Transfers would be allowed to practice and participate in preseason scrimmages before and during their ineligibility period. The policy does not restrict a freshman student from transferring schools.
Additionally, should a student transfer schools on or after the team’s first scrimmage or after the official start of the regular season (as determined by the NJSIAA), the student would be ineligible for the state tournament.
There are three exceptions to the ineligibility phase. Transfers are immediately eligible if they are (1) mandated by the courts or by the Division of Child Protection and Permency, (2) the result of military service transfers, (3) the result of a documented Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying statute.
The change in policy is directly related to the students who are affected. In the current rule, a transfer student is immediately eligible to participate if they have a bona fide change in residence. The new rule removes that exception.
“Maybe there shouldn’t be a blanket transfer rule for all sports,” said Ionta. She said she understands it’s a very complicated issue. “I wish they’d continue to work on it.”
Zapicchi said there are multiple reasons for the change, mostly related to the “whatever the most recent thing that happened” mentality.
“The multiple transfer athlete is something that really came up over the last few years. In basketball, that is the issue,” Zapicchi said. “In football, it is the transfer for a better spot on the depth chart. That can be for public to non-public or non-public to public, either one. For us, it s attempts to subvert the bona fide change of residence rule. So, its really all of them.”
During the hour-long discussion on the proposed change, several executive committee members representing urban areas (including Paterson and Newark schools) argued that their schools would be negatively effected by the change as there are many cases of transfers due to change in guardianship or living arrangements.
Zapicchi told the representation that if the courts were involved then the student would immediately be eligible.
There is still hope for those NJSIAA members who are against the new proposal. Should the second reading also pass through the executive committee and the rule change is added to the books on July 1, 2017, NJSIAA members have six months from the official notification of the rule change to send the NJSIAA a letter “vetoing” the policy. If at the end of the six months (Jan. 1, 2018) a majority of the membership vetoes the change, the rule would be removed.
The second reading of the proposed rule change is scheduled for Feb. 8 at the NJSIAA headquarters in Robbinsville.