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July 24, 2014

The Growth of the Transfers

When I think of the topic of transfers and recruiting, I think of Bob Ley of ESPN's Outside the Lines.  I think of an investigative journalist digging deep for the truth, exposing rumors and separating fact from fiction.  That is what you get from ESPN, from Yahoo Sports and other media sources that can report objectively on controversial topics.  I on the other hand am not that type of reporter but despite my relationship with players and coaches, I know a subject needing to be addressed or at least talked about when I see it and for me, the topic of players transferring is such.  

Transfers is an age old issue that is not new to high school sports and more specifically football in this case, however, it is a topic that you hear more about.  Sites like VirginiaPreps itself with their messageboards provides platforms for fans to go on and discuss fact and rumors, rumors such as a player leaving one area school for another.  Twitter, a platform that has brought the fans and the athletes closer than ever at all levels of sports is yet another tool for young men to use and athletes to set records straight.  This season alone I saw where a young man put it out there quite a bit that he was transferring schools.  The point is, our access to such information in today's times brings us closer than it ever has to what is going on within programs that ten, twenty and thirty years ago you really didn't know about.  This includes transfers.

Gone are the days where playing for your community school instilled a sense of pride and made you somewhat a hero.  The fact is you have thirty-three schools within the Richmond area alone playing high school football, communities are split up.  You do have some players that would rather play within the communities they grew up rather than another school.  Not everyone transfers.  Everyone does however want to succeed, be it personally or as a team.

That desire to win is just one of the many factors that goes into a player transferring.  I equate some of that to the sports world we live in today.  In professional sports we see players leave teams all the time for more money or for the chance to win a championship.  Lebron James most recently went back to Cleveland but can anyone really argue the fact that he left Cleveland in the first place to go to Miami where he could finally get a ring?  I didn't think so.  Some might even say that going back to Cleveland allows him a better chance of winning another ring than staying in Miami, a team that suddenly was getting old.  So if sports figures who our young people look up to are willing to change teams to better their chances at winning, then why shouldn't they?

Twenty or thirty years ago you did not have the media attention that National Signing Day garners now.  National Signing Day is a media event, covered by local news stations, the major sports networks and of course the sports specific sites such as VirginiaPreps.  Young people look at the attention that young players such as themselves are getting and they ask themselves, why can't that be me?  I'm just as good as they are.  If it is a player on a subpar team or team that just doesn't have the talent or attention, that player might feel a desire to change teams.  While it might be true that "if you are a good player, recruiters will find you", it is a lot easier if you are on a good team surrounded by other players where recruiters are already coming to.

One such coach I spoke to while doing my homework for this article felt that the camps, the combines and the parents are somewhat to blame.  There are camps and combines left and right for athletes now days and athletes go to such events, they see recruiters and coaches and while some might be brutally honest and tell you if you do or don't have it but more times than not they are going to give a player a sense of hope.  That player and his parents take that hope back home and they think about it, they discuss it and if things aren't working out on the team, if they don't feel like they are receiving the same feedback from their coach or coaches that they got from a recruiter, that creates friction.  Suddenly the player thinks he's better than his teammates or the program and wants out, wants to play somewhere where he and his family think he stands a better chance, per that recruiter's assessment, opinion.

The desire to win, the media exposure, they are your two strong reasons for transfers.  Another factor we just touched on and that is rifts between a player and coach or coach and parents.  These rifts can happen for a variety of reasons.  Could be that an athlete is not a starter and they or their parents feel they should be and don't agree with the coach on this.  That plays more into playing time which is also another fact.  You might find that a player or parent feels the player should play this way but the coach feels otherwise and while the coach should be the one to make the decision as the coach of the team, there are instances where that player or their parent/parents feel they know better than the coach.  If a rift like that develops, it is probably best for that player to move on for both parties as if that player stays; neither side really comes out winning.

Two other reasons for transfers could be with the specialty centers.  So many school systems have specialty centers and a kid whose home school might be School A will actually play for School B.  In some cases schools that have a specialty center have been known to recruit…  Don't be shocked, we all know recruiting exists, even at a high school level.  Which plays into a growing issue and that is private schools and players who transfer from a public school to a private school and are re-classified so that they get a fifth year to play.  How do you combat that one?  The private schools do not have to adhere to the rules of the VHSL and more times than not an athlete can benefit from another year of playing, growing as a player, maturing as a player, etc…  This has not become rampant yet in football but it does happen in basketball quite a bit and I have noticed it starting to seep into football.

Sometimes the reason for a transfer is more personal than say just the sport itself.  Maybe an athlete is struggling at a particular school academically or maybe that player had gotten into some trouble at school and needs a fresh start.  How can you say no to someone who needs a fresh start?  Sometimes a parent changes jobs and they do move; reasons like this are valid reasons for leaving any way you look at it.

Say however a parent is without a job and an alum from Team C tells the family, well if you come play for my old school, I'll find you a job.  I'll give you a job.  How can families in need turn something like that down? When talking about transfers, you cannot leave out the recruiting aspect of things.  It exists whether we admit it or not.  Private schools recruit student athletes from public schools.  Public schools recruit from other schools.  Say Team A is not that good but they have this player who on any other team would be a star…  You don't think teams are not trying to get them to play for them?  I had one player this offseason tell me point blank he had three other public schools recruiting him, two from the Richmond area, another from outside the area.  With the two schools that player told me coupled with what I have been told by coaches throughout the area, I know of at least five schools that actively recruit and the fact is, there are more, you just don't know about it.  This is just one high school football little dirty secrets…

I can recall going to senior nights before and see uncles, aunts, grammas, etc… walk out on the field with the kids rather than their parents…  Why is that?  Is it because that relative lives in that school district which is a better district than the one the child should be going to?  Is it because that school was able to get that child to use that relatives address so that they could play at said school.  It happens.

The recruiting of players is a much bigger and more pressing problem that needs to be addressed by the VHSL and the VHSL alone.  The transferring of players could get out of hand at some point in time but nothing is more out of hand than the recruitment and I only know a handful of stories, imagine what we don't know?  

What we do know is that for a coach, it can present challenges…  Some coaches are concerned we are sending the wrong message to high school athletes.  That when times are tough, when you face adversity, instead of meeting them head on or overcoming then, players now are choosing to bolt for another school.  Furthermore, say you have a player who had come up through the system, form middle school to JV and now varsity and he has done everything he can to be a starter but then someone comes in from another school and they might be better, do you bench the kid who had done everything you asked of him for someone who just joined the team?  What do you do if say that kid were a starter the year before and now because of a transfer; he is on the bench…  What kind of message does that send?

What does that do for team chemistry?  Year in and year out you have additions and departures from the team granted but those that come up are familiar to the players already on varsity for the most part.  When a player comes from another team, that doesn't know the system, doesn't know anyone on the team and comes with a different playing style, it could affect the chemistry.  If that player came to another school because of differences within his old team, either with the team itself or coach, those differences could surface and cause problems.  Speaking of chemistry, one coaches concern expressed to me was that players might question a teammates commitment and loyalty as if that player could abandon their old team, what kind of teammate is he truly?

For coaches as well, there is a matter of respect and that sometimes is challenging to maintain given the nature in which transfers are going.  One coach I spoke with said he will call and inform his constituents if he hears that a player is looking to come to his school.  Do all do that?  I would like to think so as I know many of these coaches and they are all good men and coaches but the fact is, odds are, not all do.  

At the end of the day most coaches will tell you they will coach whoever is there.  If a player doesn't want to be on a particular team, in most cases the coach would rather he not be; any player is replaceable.  No team be it coach or player wants anyone on a team that doesn't want to be.  Most coaches have been on both ends of the deal and know the positives and the negatives.

For some, not all, there is a new generation of student athletes, the "me" generation.  Football is a team sport, it always has been but more and more coaches are beginning to see the "me" player evolving.  Not all players are like this but some are only out there for themselves, not the team.  They are doing what they need to in order to get noticed, in order to win and in order to succeed and whether that means transferring or not, it's become about them.  In the pecking order, team is becoming "second to individual success and achievement".

Now everyone knows a coach wants to win but at the end of the day as well, coaches are there to help teach.  I have heard more than my share of stories on how this or that coach help this person or that person become a better person or just instilled something that stuck with them for life.  So with that said, coaches do question what lessons are they teaching with transfers…  When faced with adversity, you're allowed to jump ship?  Sometimes that works in life, if you're not happy at your job you can always find another but sometimes in life you must meet those challenges head on and overcome them.  Those kinds of challenges, that adversity, which not only builds character but also can make you stronger as a person.  Sometimes in life there is no easy way out.

With anything, there can also be personal opinions and that holds true to coaches as well.  For starters, I spoke with one coach who was once a transfer himself.  He obviously knows the benefits of being able to transfer and it seems to have worked out pretty well for him in the long run.  Some coaches see the transfer issue from the eyes of a father as well and many will tell you that they want their children to succeed as much as anyone and would do what is necessary to make it happen, that includes transferring someday.  With that kind of logic, how can the coaches say it is bad if they would want it themselves for their children?

Then you have the purists like you do with any sport…  Coaches who feel that if you are good enough, if you are a hard worker and get good grades, recruiters will find you.  Especially in an era where you do have more resources than ever such as VirginiaPreps, HUDL, Rivals, etc…  Kids can get recruited from anywhere, anytime, anyplace.  Granted if you play for a winner or a more reputable program, it will be easier but with so many resources, the days of kids playing on lesser teams being overlooked have come and gone for the most part.  The purists coaches are the ones asking, "What happened to the days where a coach can take a group of kids who live in a community and make a team out of them to compete against other communities?"  I think we would all like to go back to those days and you might have pockets of those schools, those communities but for the most part, that is a thing of our past.

Bottom line, coaches are torn…  I'm torn myself and I'm not even a coach.  Kids want a quick fix, be it a championship, to be on a winning team or just to be noticed for recruiting purposes…  Can you fault a player for any of those things?  That is where the dilemma for this issue lies, where do we draw the line?  How do we determine what is acceptable transfers and what are not?  Even if there is not an acceptable reason for transferring, how do you say no to a player that just wants to help himself?  

There is no real way to fix this.  I spoke with Tom Dolan of the VHSL and he expressed the VHSL's concern about any transfer for athletic reasons solely, the major problem for the VHSL and school systems is proving it.  Obviously throughout this article we have discussed athletic reasons for transfers; rarely do you have an athlete transferring for purely academic reasons.  So what do we do?  In college, if a player transfers, he has to sit a year unless the NCAA rules otherwise.  You cannot do that in high school, sure it would deter transferring and recruiting but it would also do more harm than good.  Some have proposed that if a player wants to transfer, he should be granted a onetime transfer after their freshman year only… That might work but that still is not the best option.  Can we trust the schools to police themselves?  They have not proven they can do so yet.  Do you punish the players for transferring under the wrong pretenses and if so, what is that punishment?  Do you punish the school and if so, how?  One coach had perhaps the best solution and that is for the VHSL to come down with the hammer, be explicit with a set of rules on what constitutes valid transfer reasons…  "say them, promote them, stick to them".  If it were only that easy.

Each player has a reason for transferring, for each it's personal to some level of degree.  Should transferring be allowed?  Yes.  Should there be guidelines for it, yes.  Should it be for the right reasons?  Yes.  Will it always be?  No.  Will this article change anything?  I honestly do not know.  As a fan of high school football, I would love to see kids stay where they are and play with pride within their community but as a father myself, if my son can better himself, am I not going to want him to be in the best position to do so?  Wouldn't you?  At the same time, there are lessons to be learned from adversity and perseverance and that is all part of life and as a parent and as adults, is that not what we want for our young student athletes?  To learn and grow from student athletes to adults?

At the end of the day this is not for us to decide but for coaches, administrators and the VHSL itself and maybe even the parents of student athletes to discuss.  At the end of the day, nothing is likely to be done and things will continue the way they are and the way they have been.  I just hope there does not come a time when players transfer so freely between schools from season to season that it messes up team chemistry and that the fans and community that come out to see their neighbors and children, don't recognize the names or faces on the field.


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