Leading off today:
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
The first of the two thoughts is a paraphrase of a sentiment widely attributed to Alexander Pope and is meant to suggest one should possess more than just casual familiarity with a subject before attempting to explain it.
The latter is something that many first-year journalism students hear from their instructor -- perhaps repeatedly. It's meant to remind reporters of the need to verify elements of the story even if they seem obvious.
I admittedly foul up on both counts on occasion, but (hopefully) never simultaneously in the way that Rochester's media has done collectively in recent days regarding a hot local high school sports topic.
I'm sure I'll be subjected to return fire by somebody in the business, but a chunk of what's being reported by local media on the issue of East High football star Seven McGee's eligibility status is wrong. Equally distressing, some of what passes for commentary comes too close for comfort to suggesting that the University of Oregon commit deserves a benefit of the doubt that wouldn't be bestowed upon a 165-pound, second-string lineman coming off his fourth transfer in less than two years.
In the past 72 hours, I've seen and heard:
• WHAM-AM 1180 radio newscasts throughout Thursday morning mention that McGee moved with his family to California early this year, but returned to Rochester in the spring. As they say in courtrooms, that's a fact not in evidence. For what it's worth, WHAM-TV made the same mistake.
McGee wasn't living with his family in California and had already used up his one-time exception to the transfer rule that allows for a return to the home district -- really the only rule that matters in this affair -- when he made another move from California to Rochester under similar circumstances the previous year.
• WHEC-TV and the morning talk show host on WHAM-AM pointed to the seemingly arbitrary nature of a rule requiring an athlete to live in-state for at least six months. That's an incorrect reading of a rule that is irrelevant in this case anyway since it's contingent upon being able to use the one-time exception I just noted.
The talk show host also cited the rural school district in which he resides, suggesting that students come and go from Puerto Rico all the time and continue to remain eligible to play. Either the AD and superintendent there are ignorant of the rules (not the case) or the students tend to move with their parents each time, which simplifies the process for maintaining eligibility.
As anyone who's attended the mandatory annual rules review meeting for athletic directors can attest, the rule is cut and dried. Unfortunately, I never see other media at these late-August meetings. This year would have been particularly enlightening for reporters handling high school sports since transfer issues received more attention than I recall in the past.
• WROC-TV quoted this portion of the transfer rule from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association handbook: "A student who transfers without a corresponding change in residence of his/her parents (or other persons with whom the student has resided for at least six months prior) is ineligible to participate at the varsity level in any interscholastic athletic contest in a particular sport for a period of one (1) year if as a 9-12 student participated in that sport during the one (1) year period immediately preceding his/her transfer."
They cited that because McGee didn't play football during his most recent stay in California but they would have done well to keep reading. By doing so, they would have stumbled across this later in the same paragraph: "For athletic eligibility, a residency is changed when one is abandoned by the immediate family and another residency is established through action and intent."
Again, there was no applicable residence change by the family.
• Even a column on a friend's "new media" sports website that has become my favorite source of Section 5 news misfired by contending appeals exist "to account for discrepancies that may be hard to put in writing" and that McGee's case isn't "so different to someone needing to take a leave from school for family or medical reasons."
That's inaccurate on both counts, particularly regarding the appeals process. Once McGee re-registered at East in May, the facts of his case were in essence frozen in time. Regardless of when the initial application for a transfer waiver arrived on the desk of Section 5 Executive Director Kathy Hoyt, only the circumstances that existed on that day in May mattered. And the previous use of that one-time exception to the transfer rule was fatal in light of the fact that East officials had nothing sufficient available to support a hardship waiver.
(That the California school McGee attended has been under investigation for possible academic chicanery and several top administrators have been reassigned is interesting but only marginally significant. The team takes a 3-1 record into its game tonight, so by all appearances there is a functional, talented program in place.)
Short of subsequent revelations of extreme circumstances such as a school being victimized by fraudulent information, the appeals process only addresses the incorrect application of a rule, procedural errors or decisions that are clearly