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COLUMN: PIAA transfer policy needs to be fixed

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It's time.

Actually, it's way past time that the PIAA address its problematic student/athlete transfer policy, one that causes controversy and hard feelings throughout the Pennsylvania high school sports world on pretty much an annual basis.

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association feels the same way and it has some ideas about how the state's scholastic sports governing body can improve the situation.

As reported last week by Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the PSADA has come up with what it believes is a solution to the current overly ambiguous, randomly enforced transfer policy and will present it to the PIAA for consideration at the May 24 PIAA Board of Directors meeting.

READ MORE: PIAA transfer policy

Under the proposal, student-athletes who transfer schools after the start of their 9th grade year would be ineligible to compete in varsity sports for one year, with the following exceptions:

• A bona fide move by parents. “Bona fide move” does not mean renting an apartment in a school district and keeping a residence in the other district.

• A legal change of parental custody by a court of common pleas.

• Closure of school.

• Hardship case, such as bullying or harassment, at the previous school.

• A transfer to a residential public school. In other words, if a student attends a private or parochial school and transfers to the public school where the student resides, that student is eligible for varsity sports. However, a public school student who transfers to a private or parochial school is not eligible for a year.

Hoo, boy.

Admittedly, the proposal has the potential to create more controversies and hard feelings than it eliminates, but in this humble opinion, the PSADA is to be commended for making a serious effort to improve a policy that is in bad need of it. But don't get too excited in either direction just yet. It's just a proposal, one that the PIAA has to first agree to adopt and enforce. But it's a start.

Before I go any further, let me make it clear that I have no dog in this fight. While I'm a product of a public school education (Lebanon High School) myself I've seen more than a few instances where a transfer from a public school to a private school did the student-athlete in question a world of good, socially and academically as well as athletically. In my book, there is nothing wrong with that.

That said, we all know there have been countless situations over the years, both within and beyond the borders of Lebanon County, when transfers to greener athletic pastures have been made under the guise of a family move or for, ahem, personal reasons. Kerry Collins' 1987 transfer from Lebanon to Wilson, anybody?

Look, nobody should have to attend a school that they don't like or that makes their life consistently miserable. Living in a school district shouldn't resemble being in a maximum security prison with no hope of escape.

But high school athletes and their families shouldn't get to behave like Division 1 college recruits yet, either, searching for the ideal athletic circumstances just because they're miffed about something in their home school district.

That's why the PSADA proposal is so important, and why the PIAA needs to take it seriously.

If for no other reason than it eliminates the many gray areas in the situation that currently exists, which basically boils down to how much crap administrators and kids want to go through to get their preferred outcome.

The current system, which puts the onus on administrators and student-athletes to either prove or disprove any intention to transfer for athletic reasons, is broken, plain and simple. An administrator shouldn't be able to mess up a kid's life just because they're upset about a potential transfer, and kids and their families shouldn't be able to make a mockery of the educational system by making it a means to an end of athletic glory.

Hard and fast rules are needed, in part to stop the bickering between public and private school loyalists that unnecessarily taints athletic accomplishments and the kids who are a part of them.

To be honest, I'm not totally on board with the entirety of the PSADA proposal - I take issue with it being OK to transfer from private to public, but not public to private - but as I said it's a start.

Let's hope for a good ending, for everyone involved.