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 (Yes – 27, No – 7, Abstain – 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 Wednesday.

“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.”

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Sparta’s Interim Director of Athletics Steve Stoner agrees in principal to the need but also thinks there should be some flexibility.  “I believe that we should be looking at cases individually and the two schools involved should come to a solution about the transfer student, Stoner said. “We should not just punish them for changing schools.”

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.

The state tournament ineligibility is where Stoner has an contrary opinion about the new rule.

“I understand the need for the transfer rule, in some cases there are high profile student athletes that leave a school for another one simply for their own personal stats or to ensure that they get the state tournament play,” Stoner said. “However, I believe in the vast majority of cases regarding the transfer rule we are dealing with student athletes who may be leaving for educational reasons, economic reasons, or simply because they don't like the school (generally private) that they are in.  In these cases the student athlete is being hurt for simply trying to improve their situation or education.  The idea of removing students from state play or an entire season because of a transfer to me is a little harsh.” 

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.

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 February 8 at the NJSIAA headquarters in Robbinsville.