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.
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hspace="5" vspace="5">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.
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hspace="5" vspace="5">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?
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hspace="5" vspace="5">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
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hspace="5" vspace="5">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.