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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

CIF transfer rule still a battleground

Allowing the Southern Section commissioner to deny one year of eligibility for athletically motivated transfers has stirred a legal challenge.

April 24, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Former Mater Dei High quarterback Max Wittek, who is now at USC, transferred to the Santa Ana school from Connecticut.
Former Mater Dei High quarterback Max Wittek, who is now at USC, transferred… (Los Angeles Times )

If it's April, it means rumors are starting to leak out about potential transfers in high school football.

Players who didn't switch schools in January or February when the spring semester began are quietly making inquiries, setting the stage for a change in schools come June.

There are games being played behind the scenes. It's a sensitive, tricky time for parents, players and coaches. Everyone is trying to come up with a plausible story to make sure the transfer passes CIF scrutiny.

There's nothing wrong with parents wanting their child to play for a top coach or a top program. But the rule since 2009 has been if you transfer for athletic reasons, you have to sit out one season.

Here's shocking news: According to Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons, in the two years that the rule has given authority to the Southern Section commissioner to deny eligibility to a student who transfers for athletic reasons, not a single parent has written a letter stating, "My son has switched schools because he thinks his new school has a better football program, so he'll sit out this season."

OK, it's not really shocking that parents don't admit the switch of schools is for sports reasons because the punishment is severe.

But that's the rule, and forgive me for rolling my eyes when I see a coach or athletic director ignore the obvious sign of a transfer student trying to maneuver around the rule.

If you don't like the rule, change it. But when there was a liberal interpretation during the days of widespread open enrollment in the 1990s and beyond, player movement was out of control, and it was leading to the formation of all-star teams and accusations of illegal recruiting were rampant.

Things haven't changed much. There are all-star teams. There is illegal recruiting. And people are still coming up with ways to switch schools.

Lawyers for Santa Ana Mater Dei are set to go to trial Oct. 3 in Orange County Superior Court to challenge the CIF Southern Section, and one of their major points in filing a lawsuit is the lack of consistency in enforcing the athletically motivated transfer rule. On that point, I happen to agree with Mater Dei's lawyers.

As they state in their court filing, "Neither the bylaw nor any related materials define or explain the term 'athletically motivated transfer.' Nor are there any guidelines or criteria relating to the interpretation or application of this bylaw. Thus, CIF Southern Section possesses undefined and unlimited authority to deem a transfer 'athletically motivated.' "

There's nothing wrong with the commissioner having the authority to make a final decision. But the failure to give schools and parents a clear understanding of the rule leads to concerns of inconsistent enforcement.

Rob Wigod, set to take over as Southern Section commissioner Aug. 2, said the statewide rule has to be implemented on a case-by-case basis.

"We have to look at each one, evaluate on its merits and make a decision," he said.

And the commissioner needs the authority to make the decision, or players would be switching schools en masse.

My point is to offer a warning to those preparing to test the system. Those switching schools going into their senior year who think they're going to get a free pass and hope people believe it's not for sports reasons, good luck.

It's a big risk to transfer if there's a chance you might have to miss your senior year of football.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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