ROBBINSVILLE, N.J. - By overwhelming majority, the executive committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association on Wednesday approved on first reading a proposal to strengthen the organization's eligibility rules for transfer students.
If approved again by the committee on a second reading in February, the rule that will require all transfers to sit out the first 30 days of the season will take effect on July 1.
"It's a move that had to be made," NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko said after the executive committee meeting at the organization's headquarters. "We felt like we had to get off the dime and do something because it has become such an issue."
The executive committee voted 27-7 in favor of approving the proposal that was presented by the organization's Public/Non-Public committee.
The vote came after a 35-minute discussion led by NJSIAA projects manager Mike Zapicchi, the chair of the Public/Non-Public committee.
Zapicchi was peppered with questions as executive committee members raised concerns about students who transfer for legitimate reasons - as opposed to athletic advantage - being forced to sit out nearly half of the season in each sport in which they participate.
Committee members also asked why students who participated at the sub-varsity level at their previous school would be required to sit out of varsity competition at their new schools.
"That was nothing compared to the fights we had in the [Public/Non-Public] committee," Zapicchi said.
Haddonfield High School principal Chuck Klaus was one of seven members of the executive committee who voted against the proposal.
Klaus said his main objection was that a change of this magnitude should be voted upon by the NJSIAA's general members of the 438 schools.
"That's the biggest criticism I get," Klaus said. "We have 400-some schools and the 30 members of this committee are voting to make the rules."
Klaus also indicated he was against the proposed change because of the punitive impact on students who don't transfer for athletic advantage.
"Haddonfield would probably vote no," Klaus said.
Another voice of disapproval came from a state assemblyman who sent a letter to the NJSIAA on Tuesday.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic), who also serves as football coach at Hackensack High School, wrote: "There were student and family circumstances that were not considered while this proposal was written. We do not want the entire student-athlete population to be punished for the less than one percent that are taking advantage of transfer privileges."
The NJSIAA's current transfer rule requires students to sit out 30 days of the season if they were a varsity athlete in the sport at their previous school unless they show a "bona fide change of address."
In that case, transfers are eligible right away at their new school.
Zapicchi said residency has become an increasingly complicated issue for schools to monitor and that many transfers have used the loophole to exploit the system.
"People have been manipulating the [existing] rule," Zapicchi said.
Zapicchi said the NJSIAA regularly receives complaints from parents of students who have been required to sit out 30 days while other students have been eligible right away.
"The hardest thing," Zapicchi said, "is when a parent calls and says, 'I'm doing the right thing and my child has to sit out and someone else is not doing the right thing and their child can play right away.' "
Zapicchi said the rule change will streamline the process and make all transfers subject to the same eligibility restrictions.