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Wednesday, July 31, 2019: Transfer students score a win at NYSPHSAA meeting

   Leading off today: What a difference two years can make.

   Meeting in the summer of 2017, the NYSPHSAA Central Committee was presented with a proposal that would have allowed transfer students to practice with their new schoolmates even while sitting out the season under the eligibility rules.

   I saw the proposal as a reasonable accommodation for students making new friendships and getting acclimated to new surroundings. The Central Committee saw it differently and rejected the idea by a 30-15 margin.

   On Wednesday, that New York State Public High School Athletic Association committee had a significant change of heart. Gathered for the final day of the annual meeting at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, members gave the thumbs-up by a 35-11 margin to not only allow transfer students to practice but also let younger students who change schools without a corresponding change of address participate in sub-varsity competition.

   It's probably the biggest policy 180 I've seen in recent years, but it's also a logical one given practical concerns. NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas saw it coming based on feedback from sectional administrators who've dealt with transfer paperwork and endless inquiries each summer.

   "I think it's going to lessen the number of appeals, it's going to lessen the number of lawsuits," Zayas said after the meeting wrapped up. "I think it's going to make it more fair for kids. I mean there are some situations where a kid just simply don't qualify for a waiver and exemption. And they're (changing) schools for a number of reasons."

   About two-thirds of state associations across the country already allow players to practice while sitting out contests. Many have provisions for allowing freshmen and sophomores to play at the JV level after a non-qualifying transfer.

   The new NYSPHSAA rule applies even to athletes who've participated at the varsity level. For instance, a student who wrestled on the varsity as a seventh-grader at his or her old school, would be eligible to compete at the modified or JV level as an eighth-grader at the new school before resuming their varsity career as a freshman.

   The new rule does not apply to transfers after a student completes 10th grade, a situation that takes place relatively infrequently following tougher transfer rules implemented earlier this decade.

   "A lot of the issues we tend to deal with is a kid who just wants to play sub-varsity," Zayas said. "Things didn't work out their freshman year, and now they want to go somewhere else and play somewhere as a sophomore. They're going to be able to do that. If things don't work out their sophomore year and they want to go play, now they're not going to be able to play sub-varsity. But they can still practice. So I think it'll lessen the restrictive nature of our transfer rule."

   A flurry of key votes: The approval of the transfer rule tweak capped a seven-minute blitz during which three of the meeting's bigger topics were addressed.

   It began with the rejection of a proposal to restore one game to the regular-season schedule in nearly all sports, a decision that was signaled earlier in the day during reports on "cracker-barrel" meetings of Central Committee sub-groups. While the potential to add a non-league game was appealing, concerns included the relatively short length of the fall and spring seasons and the ongoing shortage of officials in a number of sports and sections.


   Some lacrosse and soccer coaches have been among those who've told me in recent years that they weren't eager to add games at the expense of losing practice days.

   Moments later, the Central Committee said no to the prospect of changing the punishment for teams exceeding the maximum number of regular-season games. Under the proposal, the mandatory termination of the season could have been avoided by having the school district pay a $1,000 fine, forfeiting some games and/or suspending the head coach for the remainder of the season.

   That outcome was also telegraphed in the cracker-barrel comments. One sectional executive director told me they wondered about the resulting dynamics in the home district if, for example, a school board declined to pay the fine on behalf of an undefeated team a year after a nearby district did pay for a .500 team.

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   In the end, one observation may have sealed the fate of the proposal: If a school can't adhere to one of the most basic rules in the book, what does it say about their accountability in general.

   With those three major items handled, the Central Committee rolled through several other items via voice votes, including approving changes to the policy for handling appeals of decisions made at the sectional level and creating a NYSPHSAA Foundation.

   Settling old business: Tuesday's decision to table the girls volleyball committee's regional rotation plans for the 2019 and '20 didn't buy enough time to resolve questions a day later about some awkward first-round travel situations. As a result, the Central Committee opted to revert to the most recent state tournament format.

   The volleyball committee was definitely trying to do the right thing by getting creative in tackling disparities in the number of teams per class from section to section, but the potential for lengthy early-round travel was too much to overcome.

   The ice hockey proposal to revive the 17-minute periods that had to be scrapped shortly before the 2019 postseason also did not garner approval, though the vote was a surprisingly close 18-16. The hangup was largely on procedural grounds since it would have required an off-cycle renegotiation of officials fees, setting a precedent with the potential to create problems down the road.

   Down the homestretch: Decisions about boys swimming and golf were the last two major topics on the agenda, each with thorny complications.

   Ithaca College was awarded the boys swimming championships for 2021-23, but nearby Cornell University has probably lost the NYSPHSAA boys golf tournament for the near future.

   The NYSPHSAA staff preferred Ithaca, but the swim committee was split 5-5 between that college and the Nassau Aquatic Center. The Central Committee wasn't nearly as torn, overwhelmingly opted for Ithaca.

   The Robert Trent Jones Course at Cornell has hosted the state golf tournament for 40 years and was the only bidder this time around. The bid came with two hitches: Cornell could not bid on the final two-years of what is typically a three-year contract because of other obligations, and it also needed the NYSPHSAA to agree to move the 2020 tournament up by a week.

   Faced with that plus the fact that last spring's boys tournament at Cornell was much more expensive to conduct than the girls tournament in Brockport, the Central Committee narrowly voted to solicit a new round of bids. There's no instant favorite on the horizon, but it's all but certain that Section 5 will offer up at least one course willing to host for the next three years.

   More later: As always, there was a bunch of other stuff happening at the annual meeting. I'll be back Thursday (hopefully) or Friday to empty the notebook a little bit as well as catch up on a few coaching changes, new rules for a spring sport, a summer basketball tournament reminder and some school mergers news.

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