ROBBINSVILLE, NJ – A monumental change to New Jersey’s often discussed high school student-athlete transfer will get the makeover state officials have been working on for years.
By virtue of a 25-9-2 vote from the NJSIAA Executive Committee, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, a 30-day mandatory sit-out period will go into effect for just about all transfers beginning on July 1, 2017.
"I have mixed feelings about the new transfer proposal. I do agree that something had to be done about the old proposal with the ongoing and increasing transfer problems that continue to arise around the state and the NJSIAA is trying to remove the gray areas and penalize the cases that should be penalized," noted Cedar Grove Athletic Director Rob Gogerty.
"However the majority of the transfers and bonafide change of addresses that go on each year around the state are legal and just have to happen due to relocations, families moving, etc. These students will now be penalized for circumstances that they can not control," Gogerty added.
Verona Athletic Director Robert Merkler had a similar reaction. "I have very mixed feelings about the new transfer rule. The one part that is disconcerting to me is how the rule penalizes sub-varsity student athletes," Merkler explained. "There are a number of students who join athletics for the social aspect, exercise and the joy of being part of a team. For a student who transfers in to Verona, the transfer rule could discourage them from joining a team."
"I also am not a fan of how the transfer rule effects kids who transfer due to a relocation of a parents job. That is something a student has no control over and now they are penalized because of it," Merkler added. "I do understand the state had to do something. The transfer rule as previously written was extremely difficult to enforce which is why it became easy for kids to transfer in and out of schools. This new rule should discourage the rampant transferring that we saw."
The two-year discovery process spearheaded by NJSIAA’s project manager Michael Zapicchi removed the longstanding “bona fide change of address” clause in the current policy and will institute a required 30-day sit-out period for each sport the student-athlete participated in at their previous school.
“I thought that this was something that people could really support,” NJSIAA Executive Director Steve Timko said. “I know there are issues surrounding it, but overall this is the best proposal. I think it was something that needed to be passed.
According to the new rule, students who transfer before the official start of the regular season, as determined by the NJSIAA each year, will still be allowed to take part in all team/program activities, including practices and scrimmages. They will not be permitted to play in regular season games during their 30 day sit-out period.
If the student-athlete transfers to a school following the official regular season start date, they will sit out 30 days and also be ineligible for the state tournament.
There are three exceptions to the new policy that will allow immediate game participation: (1) military-related change of residence, (2) court-ordered change of residence and (3) a documented case involved the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying statute.
Zapicchi said the basis this new rule is to help students make informed academic decisions, rather than on the basis of potential athletic rewards.
“In all of this, the part of our deliberations here that are different than I think any other discussion of the transfer rule, whether at this body or by the member schools in general, is we have to look at, as an organization, do we want to discourage student-athletes from jeopardizing their academic process for an athletic prize that less and less of them get to win,” Zappichi said.
New Jersey Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (District 35, Democrat) attended Wednesday’s meeting to address his concerns about the proposed rule change.
“After talking to maybe 20 coaches and administrators that are friends of mine, each of them had various concerns about the transfer rule,” Wimberly said. “The one thing that was common amongst all of us was, we knew something had to be done, but we thought what was done was pretty extreme.”
Member schools still have the opportunity to “vote down” the new rule by a majority vote after the rule change has been in effect for six months.
According to Zapicchi, on January 1, 2018, six months after the rule goes into effect, the NJSIAA will send letters to each school’s principal seeking their input on the rule. If a majority of the member schools send the NJSIAA their yes or no opinion, whatever the majority of the votes is will determine the future of the rule. However, if less than half of the schools reply to the letter, the rule will remain regardless of the outcome of responses.
Timko also noted that the rule will go to Acting Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington for approval, but he had not spoken to her yet.
Harrington has previous history related to the NJSIAA’s current transfer rule. She vetoed the governing body’s removal of Wayne Hills from the 2016 football state tournament due to the lack of an appeals process.