The head of the nation’s governing body for high school activities said Monday she is against students transferring during the coronavirus pandemic in order to play sports.
Karissa Niehoff of the National Federation of State High School Associations cited health concerns and fairness factors among her reasons.
She responded on a national Zoom call to a question from The World-Herald about how state associations should handle transfer eligibility if a student in a school district that’s not opening fall sports seeks to go to a school that is, or if a student in a state not offering sports seeks to go to a state that is.
Several Omaha-area athletic directors have told The World-Herald they have fielded such pandemic-related requests.
Five states — California, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington — and the District of Columbia have called off their prep football seasons. Eighteen more states have delayed all or parts of opening up fall sports. The Omaha Public Schools will announce its fall sports plans on Aug. 3.
“I don’t necessarily support that states relax transfer rules, simply because the home school district is trying to keep people safe and trying to keep kids safe,” Niehoff said. “I think that’s a little bit shortsighted. Because that, to me, clearly indicates that parents are trying to put sports over their (children’s) learning environment.
“If they know where they’re coming from it’s not a safe area to go to school, who knows if they’re asymptomatic and they’re bringing environment from where they live to another district. We don’t know.”
The issue of fairness, she said, results from the question of, “are they going to unseat another person on the team who is a legitimate resident and a legitimate student of the school?”
“I think for a lot of reasons,” she said, “I would be cautious.”
Niehoff acknowledged that pandemic-related transfers will be difficult to challenge if families move to a district with sports.
“We’re hearing that there are families that are telling their schools and state associations if there are no sports this fall they’re moving. ‘We’re going to go over somewhere else. I can still commute to work, but I’m just moving,’” Niehoff said. “And that’s a legal transfer. It’s hard to deal with that when there’s a legitimate change of address.
“What’s really important is that the transfer is not made for athletic purposes. And that generally falls onto the shoulders of school principals to say, ‘There was an issue here at the school, we couldn’t service the needs, what have you. I support the transfer to another school.’”
Niehoff said it’s ultimately up to state associations to decide their eligibility rules.