Amy Donaldson: 6 changes the UHSAA should adopt to deal with current realities
This is where the majority of the controversies, misunderstandings and heartaches occur.
Many transfers are for athletic purposes, and parents try to figure out ways around the rules. I sat through a large majority of the UHSAA's transfer hearings from August until November, and I couldn't believe the lengths some parents went in trying to get around the rules. I also couldn't believe some of the difficult situations parents and their children were caught in through no fault of their own.
I have some suggested solutions, although with the way high school sports has evolved, it may be time to re-evaluate the purpose of prep sports and how club and accelerated leagues have both enhanced and ravaged high school programs.
Today's high school sports are very different from the universe envisioned in 1927.
Solution No. 1: Allow coaches to talk with parents during a school's open house, usually held during the open-enrollment period. Only the stupid coaches will make promises. Most parents just want to know what a program offers and what's required. Parents concerned about music or theater commitments are allowed to explore those programs and when something is a meaningful aspect of your child's high school experience, parents should at least be able to ask questions before they commit.
Solution No. 2: No more mercy on transfers. If a student transfers after establishing eligibility, he or she cannot play varsity sports for one year. Students can still participate in athletics at a sub-varsity level or at practices, as that supports the idea that simple participation is the purpose.
Allowing a loophole of any kind will lead to cheating, and in the case of full-family moves, it allows the rich to cheat, while poorer students are forced to sit out. It also eliminates the nearly impossible task of trying to decide who is lying.
Dedicated athletes, who truly haven't been recruited, can also participate in club sports. The only sport that doesn't have a private option is football, so that would be the only sport for which I'd allow eligibility hearings.
Solution No. 3: Have principals submit rosters after tryouts and have all those rosters (not just the teams that win) audited at the district level. Any challenges to eligibility should be complete by the first week of region play. After that, the students are assumed to be eligible and any challenges lost.
Solution No. 4: If the UHSAA is going to continue to have avenues of appeal, they need to establish a smaller pool of hearing officers. Currently they draw from the Executive Committee or Board of Trustees, depending on the hearing. Having a half dozen designated members of the Executive Committee and Board of Trustees will provide more consistency and accountability. Mercy shouldn't depend on random luck of the draw.
Solution No. 5: Establish an enforcement arm of the UHSAA. Currently the duty to investigate and enforce the rules falls to principals, teachers, coaches and athletic directors. This is unfair and ineffective. Many feel the process penalizes those who try to enforce the rules, rather than those accused of breaking them, so they do not report what they see or hear.
Like the NCAA, the UHSAA should investigate allegations on its own, with its own staff, so that coaches can report, even anonymously, information that a UHSAA investigator could then pursue.
Solution No. 6: The rule the UHSAA should focus on is undue influence. I believe most of the recruiting that occurs in high school sports comes from parents and boosters. It isn't hard to convince a hopeful parent that little Suzy could be the next Serena Williams with the right coaching. Every parent wants to believe the compliments heaped on their child. So go after boosters and start banning them from the sidelines, stands or from having any association with prep programs.
There are a number of ways the state could go in the next few years. After five state audits of high school programs we know there are millions of dollars invested in sports, music and drama programs at Utah high schools.
After a difficult year, the state's high schools have some questions to answer about how they want to handle the ever-changing landscape of high school sports.
My suggestions only deal with some of the problems, but as the UHSAA membership considers changes to its rules this winter, I hope it will consider the kinds of changes that will incorporate the values of the past and the realities of the present.
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