Photo: Kent D. Johnson/AJC
Photo: Kent D. Johnson/AJC

‘The rules we have in place are the best in the country’

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: Coaching pressures 

At Issue: The Georgia High School Association has introduced several rules in an effort to slow the transfer trend in high school sports, but one fact remains: If parents and players want to make bona fide moves into a district to play for successful coaches and programs, there's little from a legal standpoint that can be done. And parents and players continue to move. It's the classic scenario of the rich getting richer, top players leaving lesser programs and creating an uneven playing field in high school sports. 

With that in mind, is there anything that can be done to slow the transfer process? 

The Skinny: Transfers, for the GHSA, is the elephant in the room, and it always will be. How do you monitor so many student-athletes, so many moves and so many individual scenarios across 460-plus athletic programs? 

Well, better than most, according to GHSA executive director Robin Hines. 

 “I think that the rules that we have in place are the best in the country,” said Hines. “You only have to look to the south of us in Florida, where they basically have no eligibility rules whatsoever. Eligibility down there can't be based on where student lives or who he lives with or where the student went last year.” 

The governing body of high school sports in the state has worked tirelessly in an attempt to legislate the transfer issue into submission. But transfers always will create noise from programs, fan-bases and those across the state who have trouble accepting change. 

Even if it is the nature of the sporting landscape we live in. 

According to the GHSA bylaws, for a player to be athletically eligible immediately after a transfer, the player must make a bona fide move and prove it. There also must not be evidence of undue influence from the program to which the player is transferring. That means players, boosters, fan-bases, coaches or anyone from the program cannot influence the athlete via texts, calls, social media messages or in-person arm-twisting. 

Here are the GHSA bylaws on transfers, followed by rules on "undue influence" and recruiting. It’s a worthy read to understand the vast nature of the issue. 

GHSA Bylaws: A transfer student who has established eligibility at a former school in grades 9-12 shall be immediately eligible at the new school if: 
(a) The student moved simultaneously with the entire parental unit or persons he/she resided with at the former school, and the student and parent(s) or persons residing with the student live in the service area of the new school. This is known as a “bona fide move.” (NOTE: A move within the same service area does not constitute a bona fide move.)
(1) The student may choose the public or private school serving that area. 
(2) It must be apparent that the parent(s) or the persons residing with the student and the student have relinquished the residence in the former service area and have occupied a residence in the new service area. 
(3) The following factors, although not conclusive, may be evidence of relinquishment of the former residence: Selling the residence and vacating it; OR vacating the residence and listing it for sale at a fair market value; OR vacating the residence and leasing it to another (other than a relative) at fair market value; OR abandoning the residence and shutting off the unnecessary utilities. NOTE: When a family claims multiple residences, the residence for which they apply for a homestead exemption will be declared the primary residence provided the family spends the majority of their time at this residence. (4) The bona fide move is validated when the student’s family maintains the new residence for at least one calendar year. A return to the previous service area within that year renders the student to be a migrant student. All hardship appeal processes are available.’ 

Recruiting/Undue Influence 

1.71: Recruiting and Undue Influence is defined as the use of influence by any person connected directly or indirectly with a GHSA school to induce a student of any age to transfer from one school to another, or to enter the ninth grade at a member school for athletic or literary competition purposes, whether or not the school presently attended by the student is a member of the GHSA. 

(a) The use of undue influence to secure OR retain a student for competitive purposes is prohibited and shall lead to penalties being assessed against either school. NOTE: This violation may cause the student to forfeit eligibility for one year from the date of enrollment. 
(b) Evidence of undue influence includes, but is not limited to: 
(1) personal contact initiated by coaches, boosters, or other school personnel in an attempt to persuade transfer
(2) gifts of money, jobs, supplies, clothing, or housing incentives
(3) free transportation
(4) free admission to contests
(5) an invitation to attend practices and/or games
(6) a social event (other than an official school-wide Open House program) specifically geared for prospective athletes
(7) free tuition beyond the allowable standards found in by-law 1.82
(8) a coach asking a prospective student for contact information
(c) Complaints or reports of violations of this rule will be investigated and handled on a case-by-case basis. If coaches are found to be in violation of the recruiting rule, a copy of the investigation will be forwarded to the Professional Standards Commission of the Department of Education. 
(d) A school will be afforded an opportunity to demonstrate it could not reasonably be expected to be responsible for the actions of a booster who is found to have violated the recruiting/undue influence rules. 

1.72 A student athlete transferring from one school to another shall be ruled ineligible for one year if it is proven that: 
(a) The coach of the receiving school coached an out-of-school team or all-star team on which the athlete played prior to the transfer; OR (b) The coach at the receiving school acted as a private athletic instructor for the transferring athlete, regardless of whether the coach was paid for his services and/or expertise; OR (c) The student participated in a sports camp or clinic run by a member school and/or its coach(es). (d) The player who played for a coach at one school (GHSA member or non-member) and subsequently followed that coach when he/she moved to a GHSA school or changed schools within the GHSA membership. (This is not applicable to dependent children of the coach.)
(e) The situations cited in this by-law are considered to be violations even if a bona fide move has occurred, and the hardship appeal procedures are available for the demonstration that undue influence has not occurred. 

1.73: A booster shall be considered to be an extension of the school and must abide by all rules applied to coaches and other school personnel. The following persons or groups may be considered boosters: members of the school’s Booster Club; students; alumni; parents; guardians; or relatives of a student or former student; financial donors; donors of time and effort; personal trainers or coaches renting facilities.” 

Hines, who took over the top spot at the GHSA in June of 2017, has spent numerous hours dealing with one of the biggest issues affecting high school sports. 

Hines: “(In Georgia) you have to prove a bona fide move. The association has flirted with the idea of banning athletically motivated transfers in the past — the prevailing thought is if somebody makes a bona fide move and the entire family unit moves from one place to the other and the student withdraws from one school enrolls in another. Sometimes the move is athletically motivated, but they make that actual move. You run into the issues with undue influence and recruiting and that sort of thing. And I think that we have demonstrated in the last few years that we will certainly, when we’re made aware of that, deal with it. We’ve had several schools that have been caught up in one thing or another and pulled from the playoffs, forfeited games and the like. We investigate everything, and what you must understand is from an association standpoint, we're an association of 470 schools. We rely on the integrity of those schools in following the rules and doing the right thing. We also rely on those schools to monitor themselves. It’s really difficult in the metro-Atlanta area. For instance, when there’s a school on every corner people are much more fluid in their movements. So you typically have more in those areas than in South Georgia. 

“There have been things that have been tossed around in the past about mileage (limits). We can’t really do that because our schools are so diverse in the state, especially in the metro area where they’re thick and there’s obviously a much higher density of population. There are more schools in a smaller area there than you have down south. If you put a mileage limit on it, it certainly wouldn't be fair, one way or another. What we try to do is have those rules set up where the school is responsible for showing and proving and ensuring that a bona fide move has been made. A bona fide move is that the family unit moves from one school zone into another school zone while relinquishing the previous residence. And then there's what are the different things that regulate what is relinquishing the previous residence? It can get kind of complicated, but 99 percent of our folks do a great job of dealing with it. 

“When you get repeated reports of say one school — and let’s just say it’s basketball — and all of a sudden six or seven kids from all over the metro area end up in one place in one school. And then you find out that they’ve played for the same AAU team or the same club team. And then upon further review, we realized that there were people associated with that program that possibly were involved with that AAU program and also involved with that skills program. And then you can connect the dots. And in those cases where that is shown and proven, those games that the illegal players played in are forfeited. And those students, if they have made an illegal move or there’s been undue influence involved, they’re deemed ineligible for one calendar year. That’s one example you could have. There are examples where a football program may hire a coach and then all of a sudden there's two, three or four players from the school that he previously coached. Those kids end up at the school that he's at now. And that, by definition, is undue influence. And any games that those kids would have played in that time would have been forfeited. And those kids would have been deemed ineligible for one calendar year. There can be a situation where the kid moves with his mom and the dad stays at the previous residence. And now there’s a bona fide move that has not been made at that time. So that would be an illegal move. That will be some something that somebody would be deemed as a migrant student. 

“We investigate every allegation that we get, but what some people might say is that they know that the player was recruited. Well how do you know it? There’s got to be some type of proof. We’re just not going to go deem a kid ineligible because somebody said that so-and-so recruited him unless we can prove that. And that’s difficult. A lot of times it's difficult to prove undue influence. An undue influence, according to the bylaws, can be from anybody associated with that school. They can be a parent; it can be a booster club member or it can be another student. But to prove that is very difficult. I mean, we’ve had situations where we’ve been able to get our hands on text messages where this has occurred or Twitter accounts, and we look at all that stuff and try to do our best because those rules are in place to level the playing field. People get upset saying that programs are recruiting and if we can prove it, it’ll stand up in a court of law. We’re going for it 100% of the time. But if it’s not provable and it's just because of hearsay or second-hand stuff or rumor and innuendo, you can't go forward with that. 

“We’ve got one guy in our office who is the compliance officer to handle most of the stuff, but we have been known to hire private investigators when we feel like there’s somebody who has really crossed the line. And we don’t have enough proof in hearsay, but we really feel like something is there. We will have a private investigator who will sit outside somebody’s house and make sure that they live where they say they’re living and that they have relinquished the previous residence. Because we certainly don't have the manpower to do that on our own. They're just 14 of us who work here. And over a half of those are administrative assistants. And everybody else is running sports and planning venues and doing ineligibility and working with officials and sanctioning events and all that sort of thing. So it’s a tough, tough thing.”

AT ISSUE: High school transfers

• Robin Hines, GHSA executive director
• Brandon Lindsey, Johnson-Savannah girls basketball coach
• Jason Carrera, Meadowcreek football coach
• Daniel Brunner, Walton football coach
• Davis Russell, Bremen football coach
» MORE: Previous topics

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