Private eye: Schools look at tougher transfer rule

High schools: An MIAA proposal could stop public school athletes from jumping to private schools once class is in session.

High School

March 12, 2003|By Edward Lee

Every summer, Rick Diggs and athletic directors from schools that play in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association gather at a quiet retreat to discuss athletic budgets, trade stories and bond without pressure from players, parents and principals.

Just as in previous summers, Diggs, the executive director of the MIAA - the governing body for male sports in the 26 private and parochial schools throughout the Baltimore area - last year proposed a rule to prohibit athletes from transferring into a member school from a public school during the academic year and immediately playing.

And just as in previous summers, Diggs' proposal went nowhere.

That decision would come back to haunt the MIAA, which has been forced to reconsider Diggs' plan after the group came under fire because two member schools accepted the transfers of two Baltimore County basketball players last fall.

Rudy Gay left Eastern Tech for Archbishop Spalding in September, and Maurice Martin departed Overlea for Calvert Hall in November.

One public school basketball coach in Anne Arundel County canceled a game against Archbishop Spalding after learning of Gay's transfer in October. Several public school coaches in Baltimore County have said they will not schedule games against MIAA teams that recruit players from other high schools.

Though the transfer issue can go beyond basketball, that sport has become the flashpoint.

"One incident can create a snowball," said Dunbar basketball coach Eric Lee, "and now the snowball has become a snowman."

"It hadn't been a problem before," said Diggs, who has headed the MIAA for the past eight years, "and all of a sudden, it rears its ugly head, and now we've got to do something about it."

To that end, Diggs is advancing a plan that would hamper an athlete's ability to transfer from a public school to an MIAA program once the academic year has begun.

The concept, which will be voted on by the conference's Board of Governors on May 19, would require athletes who leave public schools at any point in the academic year to wait until the next school year to participate in varsity sports in the MIAA.

Support is widespread

According to Diggs, the hope is that the rule will prevent any questionable transfers.

"I want to eliminate as much as possible anything that's not ethical," he said. "We shouldn't be a meat market. I don't care what sport it is. Academics are the priority. Athletics is a privilege when you come here."

The plan has drawn a number of backers. Of the 10 private school principals and headmasters who agreed to be interviewed for this article, eight said they are in favor of it. Two said they have mixed feelings and would need more information.

"I think what we're trying to address is whether youngsters are seeing an opportunity to be a part of our athletic teams and transferring for athletic reasons," said William J. Creeden, headmaster for Severn School in Severna Park. "We're not trying to penalize anybody. We just want players to be thoughtful about their reasons for transferring."

Todd Wade, president-elect of the Maryland State Coaches Association and basketball coach at Eastern Tech, said: "I would fully support this. I think it's pretty fair."

But there are critics who say the idea crosses the line between protection and persecution.

"My thing is, this is America," said Mount St. Joseph basketball coach Pat Clatchey. "How are you going to stop someone from playing? ... I think it's difficult to enforce."

"How do they know a kid isn't transferring to a private school for the education?" Mervo basketball coach Daryl Wade asked. "I think kids should be put in the best situation. If it's public or private, do it."

The issue of transfers - and the related practice of recruiting athletes to switch schools - has had a long life span. In 1981, The Sun published a three-part series on the contentious tug-of-war for athletic prospects between Baltimore City public and private schools in the now-defunct Maryland Scholastic Association.

On the eve of a 1997 MIAA A Conference boys lacrosse championship game, then-Loyola coach Joe McFadden publicly chastised Boys' Latin for accepting players he said transferred to the private school solely for the purpose of athletics.

And less than two years ago, then-junior guard Gary Neal left Aberdeen just days after the end of basketball season to finish his high school career at Calvert Hall.

Girls stretch rule, too

Transfers are not isolated to the MIAA. In 1983, the girls Catholic League banned Towson Catholic - winner of three consecutive mythical national titles from 1982 to 1985 - from conference games for, in part, recruiting athletes and offering them scholarships to play for the Owlettes.

Dunbar, which captured two national championships under then-coach Bob Wade in the 1980s, was often criticized for fielding squads with basketball players who had transferred from other schools.

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