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New transfer rule: CIF to allow athletically motivated moves

Running back Maurice Washington III, shown in a playoff game for The King’s Academy against Carmel in 2015, was required to sit out last fall after transferring to Oak Grove.

The most high-profile transfer this past year in the Central Coast Section, maybe the entire Bay Area, was running back Maurice Washington III’s move from a Sunnyvale private school to a South San Jose public school with a storied football tradition.

Washington is a four-star college prospect.

He had a dominant season for The King’s Academy as a sophomore in 2015 but chose to enroll at Oak Grove — the school near his home — partly because an assistant coach at TKA was not retained.

The CCS, following the letter of the bylaw, called the transfer athletically motivated, a decision that kept Washington on the sideline his entire junior season.

If only Washington could have pushed the clock forward a year.

Friday, the California Interscholastic Federation, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, revised the language in its transfer bylaws. It will now allow students to switch schools for athletically motivated reasons.

The CCS was among seven sections across the state that voted for the revision at the CIF meeting last week. The North Coast Section was among the three that did not, joining the Sac Joaquin and Northern sections.

There is still a sit-out period — generally half the regular season — for families who do not move into the new school’s boundaries.

Plus, athletes are still forbidden to follow a coach to a new school or be recruited.

But it’s no longer against the rules to say, “I am transferring because the new school’s football program is a better fit for me.”

Why the change?

“There is ambiguity because some know the rule, and others don’t,” San Diego Section commissioner Jerry Schniepp told the San Diego Union Tribune last fall when the proposal started to make the rounds. “Kids transfer out and we — the 10 section commissioners — know the move is athletically motivated. But the athlete doesn’t say anything, no one objects, so the move is OK’d.

“In a similar situation, an athlete transfers and the kid or the parents speak out about lack of playing time or how they were treated by the coaches. Because they spoke out, the transfer is athletically motivated and that player is ineligible.

“So the perception is that we’re not consistent with our decisions. Until there is a rule change, though, it’s my job to enforce the rule, to base my decisions on the rules.”

“The bottom line,” CCS commissioner Duane Morgan said Monday, “is we were really only catching the kids who were running smack into us.”

Morgan said he doesn’t believe the revision will create widespread movement.

“Kids like to play in their home community,” he said. “Two percent of the kids transfer. It’s not a big number, but it looks like a big number because sometimes they’re high-profile kids, sometimes it’s kids where, ‘Why are they moving? You ask those questions.’ But really in the whole scheme of things, the transfer numbers are really not that big as compared to the entire student-athlete population in California.

“I think the numbers are going to stay close to the same on transfers because kids transfer for a lot of different reasons.”

Ed Buller, Oak Grove’s longtime athletic director and former football coach, said he voted in favor of the rule because he believes it is fair to students.

“It allows them to go to school where they want to go to school,” Buller said. “Other rules are still in place. You can’t follow a coach. You can’t be recruited. But if you’re not happy in a spot, go somewhere where you’re happy.”

Not all are in agreement with the new rule. The NCS’s board of managers voted unanimously to send its CIF delegates to oppose the bylaw changes.

In a letter to athletic directors Tuesday, NCS commissioner Gil Lemmon said he will remain vigilant in his duties.

“Regardless of the changes in the rules, I will continue to keep a close eye on all transfers, questioning any transfers to and from schools that I believe are attempts to gain an athletic advantage at the next school,” Lemmon wrote. “Keep in mind only those cases, as has always been the case, that are a violation of the actual bylaws, will potentially be denied.”

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