New Transfer Rules For High School Athletes

Mar 21, 2016

Within the massive education bill awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature is a provision that says that parents will be able to enroll their child in any school they choose, as long as there's space available.

If there's room on the roster, those students also can immediately start playing a sanctioned sport.

Many high school coaches and athletic directors are worried this could create a kind of high school "free agency," with students leaving neighborhood schools for sports powerhouses.

Robin Sussingham with StateImpact Florida spoke with people on both sides of the issue -- starting with state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, who co-sponsored this part of the legislation and Jerri Kelly the athletic director at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs.

Sen. Don Gaetz: The law makes very clear that it is the local school board that sets the terms and conditions of eligibility. The bill furthermore states that an individual can't jump from school to school , there's a prohibition against free agency. 

If the student shows up in school A in December and wants to play basketball and makes the team, they can't  then three weeks later move to school B and play basketball. Once you're there, you're there. And also, the bill provides very severe penalties for recruitment. The toughest anti-recruiting rule, I think, in the country.

RS: I've talked to some athletic directors and they're concerned that students might actually end up switching schools multiple times in a year, playing football at one school and basketball at another. I didn't see anything in the bill that prohibited that; did I miss it?

DG: No, you didn't miss it. If a student plays football in the fall and they transfer to a different school and wind up playing baseball for another school in the spring, there's absolutely nothing in the law to prohibit that. And let's remember, this piece of legislation was supported publicly in sworn testimony by the association representing these athletic directors and coaches, the Florida High School Athletic Association.

RS: Are you at all worried that this is going to create football powerhouses or baseball powerhouses, where neighborhood students who come to that school really won't have a chance to play because they can't compete?

DG: I don't think there's anything wrong with parents deciding what school their child should attend. If the consequence is that one school has a better debate team, I think Florida will survive.

Jerri Kelly: I believe that you win and you lose with the kids that live in your neighborhood. I feel like loyalty and the sense of community might be compromised.

What sports did for me was give me the sense of community that my broken family wasn't doing for me as a teenager. My teams were my family. My community raised me. That thing about community can not be underestimated. We do a lot for our children here at our school, we have a high percentage of free and reduced lunch kids but we make sure that other needs are fed, that they're getting mentoring, that they have an adult in their life.

So we identify those kids, we keep up with them, but how am I going to keep up with them if they live three counties away and get dropped off. I want the kids in my community in my school. The kids three counties over, I won't know him as well, I won't be able to follow up with him as well.

RS: Are you afraid this is going to hurt your sports teams if the best players are able to pick the most powerful teams anywhere in the state to go to?

JK: I might have to think outside of the box.. Let's say it gets really crazy and one school's a magnet baseball team and one school's a magnet football school. I might have to recreate an intramural program with the schools in my county.

RS: This bill does stiffen the penalties for recruiting.

JK: Good luck proving it. It's just really hard to prove recruiting.