The Fourth Option

Throughout the years, schools of this and every other state have identified problems relating to school transfers. There is recruitment of athletes and undue influence. There is school shopping by families for athletic reasons. There is jumping by students from one school to another for athletic reasons because they couldn’t get along with a coach or saw a greater opportunity to play at another school or to win a championship there. There is the bumping of students off a team or out of a starting lineup by incoming transfers, which often outrages local residents. There is the concentration of talent on one team by athletic-motivated transfers. There is friction between schools as one becomes the traditional choice for students who specialize in a particular sport. There is imbalance in competition as a result. And there is always the concern that the athletic-motivated transfer simply puts athletics above academics, which is inappropriate in educational athletics.

All states have developed rules to address the problems related to school transfers. In some states, it is called a “transfer rule” and in other states a “residency rule,” because linking school attendance to residence is one of the most effective tools for controlling eligibility of transfers. None of the state high school association rules is identical, but all have the intention of helping to prevent recruiting, school shopping, student bumping, team friction, competitive imbalance and sports overemphasis. The goal of promoting fairness in athletic competition and the perspective that students must go to school first for an education and only secondarily to participate in interscholastic athletics is paramount.

The transfer/residency rule is a legally and historically tested but still imperfect tool to control athletic-motivated transfers and other abuses. It is a net which catches some students it should not, and misses some students that should not be eligible. This is why all state high school associations have procedures to review individual cases and grant exceptions; and why all state high school associations have procedures to investigate allegations and to penalize violations where they are confirmed.

Over the years, state high school associations have considered four options to handle transfers. The first two options are the easiest courses: either (1) let schools decide themselves about transfers, as Michigan once did, but this leads to inconsistent applications and few states now subscribe to such an approach; or (2) make no exceptions at all, rendering all transfer students ineligible for a period of time, but this becomes patently unfair for some students and no state high school association subscribes to that extreme, although it would be easy to administer.

The third option – the ideal approach, perhaps – would be to investigate the motivation of every transfer and allow quicker eligibility or subvarsity eligibility to those which are not motivated by athletics, but this is very time consuming if not impossible to administer. No state high school association has sufficient staff and money to consider every detail and devious motive of every transfer.

This is why a fourth option has been most popular with most state high school associations. This is a middle ground which stipulates a basic rule, some exceptions (we have 15 exceptions in Michigan), and procedures to consider and grant waivers – a primary role of the Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Committee.

Posted in: Transfers


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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.