Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MSHSL Transfer Rule Gets Needed Scrutiny

In 1988 the Minnesota Legislature adopted Open Enrollment, which meant that any high school student could enroll in any school at any time for any reason. In 2007 the Minnesota State High School League in effect amended Open Enrollment in order to place limits on the opportunity for athletes to benefit from Open Enrollment.

Specifically, when a student-athlete transfers high schools, he or she has to sit out a year of athletics, at least in theory.

The reasons for this policy, it seems, included 1) recruiting. Parents, and sometimes even school officials, it was rumored, were out soliciting elite athletes to come to their schools, and there was nothing to prevent such a practice. The result was 2) the creation of super-teams. At that time, the St. Paul Central girls basketball team was Exhibit A. Girls had transferred into Central from all over town to create what is still regarded as the best girls basketball team ever to play in Minnesota.

Remember when the new transfer rule was going to stamp out all of that?

The problem with the transfer rule was—well, there are any number of problems with the transfer rule. First and foremost, it denies athletes equal protection of the law. But, secondly, it just doesn’t seem to be working. There seem to be more transfers than ever, and almost nobody sits out.

Equal Protection?

But, first and foremost, the whole point of Open Enrollment was that schools would have to compete for students. High quality schools would gain students, and poor quality schools would lose students. And, since state funding is based on the number of students, bad schools would not only lose students, they would lose funding and eventually they would go out of business. The good schools would survive, and the quality of education in Minnesota would improve for everybody. That’s the idea.

So, from 1988 until today, kids who are in band or choir, or are artsy, or they build robots, or they’re good at math, or whatever, they can enroll wherever they want, whenever the want, for any reason. If you’re an athlete, you can’t do that without sacrificing your sport. That denies athletes equal protection of the law, not because the Legislature exempted athletes from Open Enrollment, but because an extra-legal, voluntary association decided that it should be so.

That’s not fair and, I believe, it’s not legal. The Constitution says that everybody should have equal protection under the law. Of course, it’s only illegal if somebody with legal authority says so. But somebody might do that soon.

Justice Delayed

Justice delayed is justice denied, they say. And several parents are now suing the league about justice delayed. One of the issues is that if a student is declared to be ineligible, you can appeal, but the appeal is likely to take so long that the athletic season in question is over by the time the appeal is completed. One student was declared eligible for her sport on appeal, but that decision didn’t come until about the time of the state tournament.

If the courts find in favor of the students, then an appeals process would have to be made vastly more timely. A reasonable measure of timeliness would be that if a kid appeals and is found to be eligible, they could actually play their sport within that season.

Anything less would be “justice delayed, justice denied.”

Legislative Audit

Then, in addition to the lawsuit, the state Legislative Auditor is going to be auditing the league and its transfer policy at the request of state legislator, Rep. Bob Dettmer. Some of you know that Dettmer was the long-time Forest Lake wrestling coach. When he says he’s got no axe to grind, no problem with the MSHSL, you can take him at his word.

Yet, when his request for a legislative audit was announced, the news article included complaints about the way the East Ridge football program was treated by the league. It turns out that East Ridge used an ineligible football player who lied to the school about his place of residence. When this came to light, the league forfeited a whole slew of wins and a pair of section titles. Meanwhile, well, there was nothing anybody could do to the ineligible player.

So, There Are Problems

So there are problems. Appeals take too long. Punishments often target the innocent rather than the guilty. And, again, the rule discriminates against a whole class of Minnesotans—they being high school athletes.

And isn’t that a pretty high price to pay for a policy that, in turn, doesn’t seem to actually be accomplishing its objectives?

But, wait. To be fair, here are the numbers, as reported by the Star Tribune, which has just taken an in-depth look at the whole issue, though I have to say that they seem to have overlooked the main points. Which are, the transfer rule denies athletes equal protection of the law, and that there are so many kids who transfer and play.

So, the numbers reported by the Strib are as follows. There have been about 2,400 transfers into Minnesota high schools this school year, about 1,400 of them within the state. About 480 were pursuant to Open Enrollment, and about 427 to families changing residences. (That leaves about 500 “other,” and there’s no indication what those situations are.)

When transferring, a student first applies to the new AD for eligibility, and the league agreed with 92 percent of the AD’s rulings. The league overruled the ADs 108 times. (If that’s the 8 percent, then the 92 percent would be about 1,200 cases.)

There were 139 appeals. Presumably these are cases where the league ruled a player to be ineligible. (I doubt if very many people would appeal a ruling that a student was eligible.)

47 appeals were approved (presumably, a student being found to be eligible) and 58 were denied. The others remain in process. (So, in other words, the “justice delayed” scenario applies to about 10 percent of transfers. The “equal protection” concern would apply to all of them.)

What the Strib’s numbers don’t show is how many transfers ultimately play sports and how many sit out. If the 58 appeals denied are the only ones who sit out, that’s only 4 percent. But, surely some students go ahead and sit out a year without appealing. Let’s assume that just 1 in 10 students who are ruled ineligible go to appeal. Now you’ve got 40 percent (of 1,400) sitting out, and 60 percent (840) who are playing. I would think, actually, that the number is much higher than 840—say, at least 1,000—who transfer each year without giving up a year of eligibility.

Remember when the transfer rule was going to stamp that out? Instead, there’s maybe 1,000 kids each year who find some loophole to go through to maintain their eligibility. Anyone who follows girls basketball as closely as many of our readers do, in fact, know perfectly well that the percent of transfers who maintain their eligibility is way beyond 60 percent. 90 percent or more would seem more accurate.

Of course, many of those fall under those 427 families that changed residence. But you and I also know that in many, many of those cases, the transfer from one school to another comes first. The new house comes after.

So, in short, transferring by athletes remains rampant. And, when a girl transfers from Rochester to Irondale or Waseca to Lakeville, it’s probably because mom or dad got a new job. But when she transfers from Hopkins to Eastview or Eden Prairie to Chanhassen, mom or dad’s job probably had nothing to do with it. Again, you and I both know that in the vast majority of cases, the transfer is for basically athletic purposes.

Remember when the transfer rule was going to stamp that out?

And, yet, somewhere in the range of 60 to 90 percent or more (probably a little more) of such students maintain their athletic eligibility in spite of whatever the rule says.

And, so, ultimately, that’s why the transfer rule should be rescinded. It’s analogous to the MSHSL’s new policy of denying media credentials to the state tournament to Web sites that rank and rate and evaluate players (“recruiting Web sites”). And then, after being denied a media credential, I bought a ticket to the first session and saw Kevin Anderson, Gary Knox and Chuck Thompson sitting at courtside. Okay, now I want a pass.

Same here: If Brooke Bowlin and Rachel Garvey and Martha Kuderer never missed a day of athletic competition, then it just isn’t fair that Katey Brattland and Lizzie Odegard and Sam Trammel ever did.


And, as far as “super-teams” are concerned, well, okay, we haven’t had a team as good as St. Paul Central 2007, though obviously there are some Hopkins fans who are going to disagree with me on that. Which just proves my point.

The Hopkins girls have won 4 out of 6 state titles (with 5 out of 6 state championship game appearances) and 6 state titles over a period of 13 years. Among the boys Hopkins has won 6 of 12 and 7 of 15. And I mean no disrespect when I ask where all those Hopkins ballplayers actually live. And who can actually compete with the Hopkins boys? Year in, year out, it’s Apple Valley, it’s Lakeville North, it’s Osseo, it’s Eden Prairie, the usual suspects.

And regardless of where the kids live, the point remains that super-teams have become more and more entrenched since the passage of the transfer rule that was supposed to stamp them out.

So, again, with all the problems that seem to be endemic to the transfer rule, isn’t that just too much of a price to pay in light of the fact that the rule isn’t accomplishing its objectives?