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Tracking the Transfer Rule

We are not the first generation of school leaders to be concerned about athletic transfers in secondary school sports.

Lewis L. Forsythe, in his 1950 book Athletics in Michigan High Schools, described his era and earlier this way: “. . . there were enough who transferred for advantage, as they thought, in athletic opportunities to give wide currency to the term ‘tramp athletes.’ These were usually students who became ineligible in schools in which they had first enrolled, or became otherwise disaffected in their home situation and went elsewhere to continue school. It was possible, for example, for a boy to play football at Ann Arbor one season, drop out of school until the next March first, and then enter Jackson High school. Here he could make himself eligible for baseball and track by merely ‘passing’ in ten hours (later twelve hours) of work from time to time according to the reporting methods of the school, and then leave without taking final examinations. The next semester he might enroll in Detroit High School, and, by satisfying eligibility requirements for the current semester, play football in that school. With no age limit and no required check-up on eligibility in another school, this could go on for at least five years.”

Mr. Forsythe, writing in 1950, cited concerns as early as 1901, which led the state athletic committee to adopt the first transfer rule for school sports in Michigan. It required a student going from one secondary school to another to present a certificate from administrators of the school left that the student was eligible under the athletic rules of the time. The issue of the time was that students who were performing poorly in the classroom of one school would attempt to escape ineligibility due to academic deficiencies by transferring to another school.

Two years later, a rule was adopted to address undue influence (recruiting) that required all schools to sever all relationships with a school that attempts to influence any athlete to change schools.

A year later (1904), this proposal was debated: “A student who has played on a football team, or on a baseball team, or who has taken part in any track events, going from one school to another, shall be ineligible to enter any secondary athletic contest for one year, unless the parents of such student move from one school district to another . . .”

It took 20 years for a rule change to actually be made in this direction: “No student who has been enrolled as a high school student in any high school shall be permitted to participate in any interscholastic contest as a member of any other high school until he has been enrolled in such school for one full semester, unless the parents of such student actually change their residence to the second school district. In the latter case, the student will be as eligible as he was in the school from which he withdrew.”

There, in the first code of rules promulgated by the Michigan High School Athletic Association in 1924, is the core of our 2017 rule . . . ineligible for one semester, with the exception for an actual change of residence.

Today we debate that the period of ineligibility is too short and the residency exception is too lenient.

As for the period of ineligibility, across the US, one year is more common than one semester. As for the residency exception, it exists everywhere. In fact, in some places the “transfer” rule is referred to as the “residency” rule.

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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.