Opinion: CIF should let transfer students play


Sophomore Cormac White watches the baseball team take on Monterey from the dugout during the Mar. 1st home game. White made the Palo Alto High School varsity baseball team but is ineligible to play because of the California Interscholastic Federation Transfer Eligibility Guidelines. “Rules are rules, and I get it,” White said. “Obviously I’m really disappointed, but there’s nothing I can do to change them.” (Photo: Shreyas Shashi)

Joseph Kessler and Shreyas Shashi

Should high school students who change schools be barred from playing sports? The answer from the California Interscholastic Federation seems to be, “It depends.” CIF should simplify its transfer eligibility guidelines to allow more transfer students to play school sports.

While the transfer eligibility guidelines only impact a small number of Paly students annually, the transfer culture in high school sports continues to grow.

For high school student-athletes transferring into Palo Alto High School, navigating the CIF Transfer Eligibility Guidelines can be complicated and nerve-wracking. And when transfer students find themselves ineligible to play and forced to sit out of varsity sports, it causes frustration for student-athletes, parents and coaches.

When a student transfers high schools, the student’s new high school is responsible for taking steps to ensure the athletic eligibility of the student. However, the CIF has the authority to permit or deny transfer students’ sports eligibility.

The CIF constitution and bylaws state that “participation in interscholastic athletics is a privilege.” According to the administrative guidelines for CIF member schools, the transfer-eligible guidelines are also designed to “reinforce the principle that students attend school to receive an education first; athletic participation is secondary.”

However, the administrative guidelines for CIF schools related to transfer eligibility for interscholastic athletics are an overwhelming 19 pages long, with an appeals process and room for different interpretations. Why should different students get different treatment solely based on different interpretations of the guidelines?

Paly’s varsity baseball coach Pete Fukuhara finds the CIF transfer eligibility guidelines perplexing.

“I don’t understand the transfer rule because it seems like there’s a different rule for every school,” Fukuhara said. “Valley Christian can get a guy transferring in, and all of a sudden he’s playing game one, and we get a guy transfer and now they’re telling us he’s got to sit up for the year.”

Those who support the existing transfer eligibility guidelines argue that without these guidelines, aggressive schools and coaches will actively recruit specific students to transfer in order to create “super-teams” of elite athletes. If transfer students are all able to play for their new school immediately, some schools could gain an unfair advantage in athletics over schools that do not have the time or ability to aggressively recruit.

The downside of the current guidelines is that too many students with legitimate reasons for transferring are forced to sit out from sports.

For instance, a parent could land a new job in another geographic area, taking the family out of the school district zone and forcing a transfer. Another example is a student might struggle with fitting in or socializing at one school and therefore seek a new campus environment. 

The idea of transferring schools has its pros and cons. In certain situations, this sort of change is the only option, but that isn’t always the case. Many times students do transfer schools primarily for athletic purposes, leaving schools, athletic directors and other players in limbo. California has many different high school athletic leagues, each having different interpretations of the rule.

Sophomore baseball player Cormac White transferred into Paly this year because he lives in the Paly boundaries and opted out of private school, and the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League ruled him ineligible to play in varsity baseball games, even though he made the team. 

“It is questionable how they [CIF] handle things,” White said. “I don’t think this is warranted, but I just got to look at the positives.”

 Junior JJ Ball transferred into Paly from Villanova Preparatory School during his sophomore year. He was not able to try out for the varsity basketball team this year and has had to adjust to one of his favorite hobbies being taken away. 

“I have to admit that it has been a bit challenging for me,” Ball said. “Basketball is one of my main hobbies, and not being able to play has been tough.”

While some student-athletes might be so discouraged that they quit their sport, Ball has decided to persevere.

All I can do is use this time to continue to work on my skills and be ready to contribute to the team next season,” Ball said.

This is the sort of tough bind a lot of student-athletes are placed in as a result of the CIF’s stance on transfer student-athletes. You only get four years to show your worth to potentially keep playing past high school, and having one thrown away is not something that should be taken lightly.

“This is supposed to be about the kids and moving the kids on to the next level,” Fukuhara said. “What good are we doing punishing a kid for changing schools because either they didn’t get along with the coach or they didn’t like the schoolwork? Why are we punishing kids for transferring?”

Especially with youth mental health challenges increasing, the CIF should recognize the perspective of those who transfer and the positive health impacts of playing school sports. Rather than penalize students, the CIF should provide a path for every student-athletes, including transfer students, to pursue their sports dreams.

Athletics is not always about winning the league or creating a super-team, and at the end of the day, the CIF must remember that students are trying to create positive high school memories and pursue happiness. The CIF should prioritize the development of clearer, streamlined rules that enable more transfer students to play sports.