ARAM TOLEGIAN COLUMN
It didn’t take long for me to get a response from the CIF-Southern Section after this newspaper’s blogs posted the replay of the Tuesday PrepXtra Live broadcast, in which a panel that included myself, Fred J. Robledo, Steve Ramirez and Pasadena Star-News Editor Frank Girardot discussed the ongoing drama in the high school sports world that centers around two words: athletically motivated.
During the segment, which still os available for viewing by going to any of our prep sports blogs, Girardot asserted the controversial athletically motivated rule equates to communism. That didn’t sit well with the CIF-SS, nor has much that anybody recently has to say about the topic. That’s because it’s become very clear, at least to this sportswriter, that whenever people open their mouths about this controversial rule they really don’t know what they’re talking about. Myself included.
Can you blame us? It’s confusing. The rule is confusing. It sounds simple enough: if a student transfers to another school and the reason is deemed to be athletically motivated, then that student has limited athletic eligibility.
But just what does “athletically motivated” mean? The Orange County Register’s Steve Fryer asked that question point-blank to new CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod back in August and the answer he got was, “Steve, I do not (have an answer).” Wigod went on to say the rule, or definition of it, essentially is deciphered on a case-by-case basis.
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Wigod, just like the rest of us, is in a bad spot. The rule and its interpretation leaves plenty of gray area. So when you hear four writers sitting in front of a camera discussing it, you can be rest assured we don’t have all the answers. When you hear parents discussing it, you can be certain they’re missing important pieces of information. And when you hear coaches address it, it’s a lock they’re not grasping the full complexities of its meaning.
The rule came into play at the start of the 2009-10 school year. I asked CIF-SS Director of Information Thom Simmons what the official reason was that the rule was enacted.
“I’m only speaking on what I think the membership felt and that’s if you’re going to be transferring, you should be transferring for academic reasons and not for athletic purposes,” Simmons said. “Secondly, and people forget about this when they say kids should be able to transfer to whatever school they want to transfer to, they forget the cost to the person who is already there at the school and has already put in three years on the junior varsity or frosh/soph level, and he’s worked his butt off and kept his good grades and has been a good citizen, and now a guy with a better skill set comes in and this kid finds himself on the bench. He’s suddenly replaced after all the years of loyalty to that program.
“That’s the human cost on the other end that nobody ever talks about. Now that kid thinks to himself, `This isn’t fair, so I’m going to go to another school.’ And then he takes the spot of another kid who has been there all along. And so the dominoes keep falling and falling. Where does it stop?”
When Simmons refers to membership, he’s referring to schools that comprise the Southern Section. They make the rules for the CIF-SS to act on. Now you know who to blame for the rule in the first place. How does your local high school feel about this? Have any of you gone down there or called and asked how the school or its league voted on this issue? I doubt it.
According to a Los Angeles Times article this week, the Trinity League is expected to introduce a proposal at the next Southern Section Council meeting it hopes eventually would eliminate the rule state-wide. Yes, that means when a player leaves School A’s football program to go to School B, School A cannot stand in the way by claiming the move is athletically motivated. Other longstanding rules, like valid change of address or hardship request, still would apply.
The earliest a change to the rule could be enacted would be the 2012-13 school year. That’s assuming the process goes smoothly. Personally, I hope it goes through, simply because I’m tired of the confusion. I’m tired of either myself or others being only half right because we didn’t have the actual case file in front of us. I’m tired of parents and athletes having to apologize for making athletics an important reason why they left one school for another or decided to attend one school instead of another at the outset of a high school career.
Parents and student-athletes have four short years to make it all happen.
Nothing beside some very basic guidelines should stand in their way while making the decisions they feel are best for their own individual situation.
When buzzwords like communism start being thrown out, right or wrong, you know we’ve reached a point when something has to be changed. It’s coming.
That much I can assure you. People are fed up. The question is whether anybody will be able to tolerate a reversion to how things were before 2009.
Back then, there was a whole different group, call them traditionalists, who cried bloody murder when kids refused to play for their neighborhood school.
But at least then, we all understood the rules, rulings and interpretations.