GHSA brings on private investigator and proposes controversial rule to limit transfers

THOMASTON, Ga. -- GHSA is trying to crack down on transfers.

The state's high school sports governing body will vote on a proposal known as the "50 percent sit-out rule." The proposed bylaw would force transfers who cannot prove they are moving schools for non-athletic reasons to miss half of the regular season. The Executive Board will vote on the proposal on Tuesday at the Thomaston-Upson County Civic Center.

As the issue of transfers becomes more controversial, Assistant Executive Director Jay Russell told 11Alive on Sunday that he and the GHSA believe it is time for tighter restrictions on transfers as the landscape of high school football evolves.

"Our society has changed so much. We live in a very transient society, and it’s easy for people to move. People move often. I would say the large majority of moves of student athletes...are legitimate moves," Russell said. "But there is indecent foul play going on out there. That’s what’s getting publicity, and we certainly need to move in a direction to curtail that problem."

The proposal comes after an increase in transfers, including last year's "super team" at Grayson High School where several highly-recruited athletes transferred for the 2016 season. The Rams won the 7-A state title with that team. One athlete transferred for just one season and went back to his old school. 

The GHSA couldn't find any evidence that he broke any of its current transfer rules. In March, the former Director, Gary Phillips, retired as high-profile transfer cases came to light and disapproval increased from the outside.

"The overall experience of Georgia’s student-athletes is not served by turning a blind eye to the issues of athlete recruitment and eligibility-related fraud,” Phillips said in a statement after retiring. “The student-athlete experience is not served by pandering politicians who seek to disband the GHSA and replace it with a governmental body whose bylaws prohibit consideration of any geographic or residency-related factors in determining student-athlete eligibility. It is not served by personal agendas that diverge from the GHSA’s mission. And it is not served by knee-jerk opposition to the GHSA because of some perceived slight arising from past GHSA rulings or decisions.”

Russell said previous cases and investigations of transfers has already led to changes, like the hiring of a private investigator that can be used for any issue, including investigating transfers. The GHSA has included $2,500 for private investigators in its budget beginning in July.

It's just one of a few solutions the Transfer Eligibility Task Force came up with since it was formed, including amendments to its constitution. The group has had four meetings, and the 50-percent rule is their next proposal up for a vote.

The previous rules stated that a transfer student would be immediately eligible at the new school if the athlete moved with his or her parents to the service area of the new school in addition to many other additional contingencies and circumstances. 

But if the new proposal passes, transfers will face the 50 percent sit-out rule unless their previous school waives the rule or the student appeals it and the new school is able to prove that the move was not "athletic in nature." 

The GHSA will establish a Transfer Appeals Committee, composed of members of the state executive committee, that will rule on the appeals. The GHSA will try to use the same members to create consistency. However, Russell is aware that some of the language is vague.

"That’s a concern," he said, specifically commenting on the variation in which sending schools may or may not waive the 50 percent rule for transfers. "Everybody’s a little bit different in human nature and in temperament. People hold grudges, some people don’t. Some people might be a little stricter than others. That’s another issue. The sending school has a lot of power in that circumstance and the committee.

"If it was to come to fruition, then one of the concerns is that the sending school has so much power, and we would certainly expect degree of consistency there, although that may be difficult to achieve."

If the transfer's former school doesn't waive the 50 percent sit-out rule and the appeal is denied, that athlete will miss half of his or her season. For football, that is five games, but the rule applies to all sports. Basketball players will miss 13 games, baseball 15, etc. (See full list of sports and sit-out times below).

If a student transfers during the season, the sit-out period will start as soon as the school has verified the family's move to the new residence. If the team goes to the playoffs, those games count towards the 50 percent total. If not, the 50 percent can be completed the following season. It is not limited to just one sport, but all of the sports the athlete participates in.

The proposal could pass on Tuesday, get struck down or tabled if revisions are necessary. All three options are possible on Tuesday with feedback from schools on the proposal being mixed, according to Russell.

"There are some concerns like the sending school having too much power. Implementation issues. A lot more documentation will be required. But there is some favoritism too because it does mean we are attempting to curtail this problem," Russell said. "It’s been very, very mixed."

The sport specific 50% sit out times:

  • Football 5 games
  • Cheerleading 3 meets
  • Softball 13 games
  • Cross country 5 races
  • Volleyball 9 matches
  • Swimming 5 meets
  • Basketball 13 games
  • Wrestling 10 meets/dates
  • Gymnastics 5 meets
  • Tennis 9 matches
  • Soccer 9 games
  • Track 5 meets
  • Baseball 15 games
  • Lacrosse 9 games
  • Golf 6 matches

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