The phrase “50-mile rule” has become shorthand for the proposed legislation written to curb athletic-related transfers in Arizona.
It is that specific distance, though, which is one of the hottest debates.
A vast majority of coaches and administrators seem to be on the same page regarding a need to slow down the yearly exodus of athletes from one school to another. The initial proposal by the Arizona Interscholastic Association and its executive board was first discussed this spring, and follows an Ohio mandate that forces student-athletes to sit out one year if they move within a 50-mile radius of their previous residence.
For now, the 50-mile number remains a floating number, but a vote on the transfer legislation and possible hardship appeal process could happen as early as September.
Some are just fine with the number. Others think it’s too small. Others think it’s too large.
“There needs to be some rule because the current system isn’t working,” Saguaro athletic director Bob LaRue said in an email.
So let’s break it down.
How about a vote for the whole state? There is some validity to that. A statewide ban would make life simple for the AIA and athletic directors who deal with piles of paperwork: if you transfer, you have to sit out. No loopholes, no circumvention.
“I wish it would just be the whole state,” Campo Verde football coach Max Ragsdale said. “I hate transfers. I think you should play at your school, period.”
You just know there’s going to be that family that moves to Flagstaff for a couple months in the summer and then returns to the East Valley, contending that the distance moved is more than 50 miles.
Then again, that legislation would force every transfer student in Arizona to sit out a year, and it would also clog a possible appeals process with a vast array of hearings.
Well, then, is the original number of 50 fair?
Nearly all of the recent high-profile transfers would have fit under this umbrella. Davonte Neal’s move from Laveen Cesar Chavez (where he open enrolled after growing up in Mountain Pointe’s neighborhood) to Chaparral didn’t eclipse 50 miles. Neither did Jarvis Lewis’ move from Glendale Raymond Kellis to the Firebirds, or Jaron Hopkins and Torren Jones leaving Basha for Dobson.
Jordan Morgan’s move from Valley Christian to Lakeside Blue Ridge three years ago is one of the few that would have been outside this realm.
“I think 50 miles is a good distance,” Scottsdale Christian athletic director Bob Fredericks said. “It should minimize athletically-motivated transfers.”
Higley football coach Eddy Zubey agreed 50 miles was a good number because it encompasses the whole Valley. But Dobson girls basketball coach Tyler Dumas thinks it’s too much.
“For the Valley, the metro area, I think it’s too big of a number,” he said. “Coming from Kansas, that number might be good because towns are 20-30 miles away. You can get in the car and drive. Here, 25 miles will be an hour drive.
“You can have a kid that perhaps lives in an apartment or house and they have to move. They’re not going to be able to hop on a bus,” for a school more than 50 miles away.
Hamilton football coach Steve Belles also believes the 50-mile mark is overkill. He proposed 15 miles, which would be enough to stop the transfers within most districts, but not hurt the families moving across town because of job, financial or other “legitimate” reasons.
“I sure would not want to drive my child 50 miles to school every day,” Belles said. “So I guess I would have to have my daughter sit out a year for sports because (mom or dad) got a new job.”
But then, that’s not much of a deterrent to athletes looking for a powerhouse program, because with most sports, the competitively-elite are spread out across the East Valley.
To recap: banning transfers across the whole state could work, or maybe not. Fifty miles is either just right or too much. Somewhere between 15-25 miles sounds most realistic, but it may not be enough to stop some families’ rampant movement.
Coaches and administrators are ready for a change to the transfer rules.
Ironing out “How far is too far?” remains the hardest part.