Not every trend trickling down should be embraced in prep sports

Whenever some seismic shift happens in sports at a level above, it always seems to filter down. The 3-point line. The designated hitter. (Sadly) the wave.

Once it starts with the professionals, it will make its way to colleges. And the next stop? High school athletics.

In these times when contracts don’t mean anything in professional sports — Russell Westbrook signed a five-year contract five years ago and is now on his fifth NBA team — neither do scholarships. Don’t like where you are? Then just take off and go somewhere else and play immediately.

Ah, but there is that last bastion of restricted athletic movement – high school sports. If you want to transfer, there’s a price to pay: You have to sit out a year.

To be sure, there are some ways around it – a few of them are actually legal according to the LHSAA handbook – but as a general rule, you’re relegated to not much more than getting to practice with your team and then watching from the sideline while your teammates actually get to play the games.

But with literally thousands of college athletes venturing into the transfer portal and then becoming immediately eligible at another school, you have to wonder if some form of that might be headed to Louisiana.

The argument that was heard for many years in collegiate sports was that the trombone player could leave one school and still be instantly eligible to play in the band at State U. With a backbone deteriorating before everyone’s very eyes, the NCAA threw up its collective hands and gave the “olly olly oxen free” to athletes who wanted to transfer.

But if you think Louisiana’s policy is right in line with other states, think again. More than 30 states have passed open enrollment legislation as, one after another, transfer rules are being relaxed all over the country. State associations exist to try to create a level playing field. That seems to be a never-ending battle, but there’s another battle that’s going to be hard to fight.

Consider this quote from Traci Statler, a professor of sports psychology at California State University-Santa Barbara, who discusses the issue of high school transfer eligibility in her sports philosophy and ethics class: “One of the primary reasons for transferring high schools is that kids are trying to make themselves more marketable to colleges. Student-athletes are less likely to be loyal to the school their older brothers and sisters went to and more likely to be loyal to the school that can get them what they want — a college scholarship.”

And there it is! You just knew if we tried hard enough, we could get there.

In Louisiana, there are a variety of school attendance zones. Some are divided (theoretically) by geography. Some are parish-wide. Some parishes allow Majority-to-Minority transfers, some don’t. And if you really want to get the eligibility party started, throw in the magnet component and watch all the heads start spinning.

Feel free to wonder, if only for a moment, what an open enrollment might look like?

“I think there would be a lot of distrust,” Captain Shreve head football coach Adam Kirby says. “You’d have to wonder if high school coaches would turn into recruiters. It would put pressure on high school coaches from outside sources to go and find those players. And if you are going to do that, you might as well be a college coach. Part of the reason I enjoy being a high school coach is the purity of the sport. I think it would push high school coaches out the door.”

Kirby has been a head coach for one year, but Glenn Maynor, who has been Haughton’s baseball coach for 29 years, feels the same way. Maynor will be the first to tell you that he’s benefitted from having transfers in his program – “we’ve had some dang good players transfer in,” he says — but he has also lost a few as well.

“I’d definitely prefer it stay the way it is,” Maynor says. “I like the idea of having your own community. I stopped worrying about losing kids a long time ago. If we are running a good program and winning some games, we might lose a few players and we might get some.”

Who would benefit? Some say private schools. Others say it’s more of who it would hurt because of the Darwinian Theory that only the strong would survive. Some schools are challenged enough already to get kids to play in many sports.

“And it would change how you coach,” Maynor says. “If you get on a kid and need to discipline him, he might just take off and go somewhere else.”

“I think this would be a Pandora’s Box,” Kirby says, “that you could never close.” 

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