UHSAA transfer rule unfairly burdens Utah's student-athletes
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Choosing where to attend high school got harder this school year — for some students.

Under a new rule, student-athletes who transfer to a different high school, even for academic reasons, are forced to give up athletics for a full year.

This rule has taken the regulation of high school athletics to a new extreme. A more reasonable rule should replace it, one that recognizes the realities of public schooling in Utah.

In its zeal to stop athletic-related transfers, the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Many students are now forced to confront a decision they should never have to make: "Do I transfer to a school where my chances of succeeding academically will improve and give up sports for a whole year, or do I stay where I am to keep playing sports?

Some students may not fret about sitting out, but is it fair or just to force students who love athletics and consider them an integral part of their educational experience to sit out, especially when they transfer solely or primarily for academic reasons? Hardly. The UHSAA's new rule forces students to choose either academics or athletics; choosing both is not an option.

This athletics-or-academics proposition defies reality. When people choose a school, they consider not one but many factors: teaching quality, social environment and family circumstances, to name just a few.

In the UHSAA's view, a high-stakes decision between athletics and all other considerations is supposed to discourage students from putting athletics above academics.

In truth, it elevates athletics above academics by making athletics the fulcrum point of the decision, a reality that distorts the decision-making process and promotes precisely what the UHSAA says it is trying to prevent.

How did we arrive at this extreme? Understandably, the UHSAA wanted to change its transfer rule.

The old rule was difficult to enforce, created a huge administrative burden, and engendered ill will among the UHSAA, parents and school officials. Keeping the old rule was not an option.

But when the UHSAA rightly decided to change its transfer rule, it went too far. It placed an unnecessary burden on student-athletes, a burden not imposed on any other type of student – not drama students, chess players, debate team members or students struggling with academic issues.

This approach clashes with Utah's educational philosophy.

Recent innovations such as open enrollment, charter schools and online education give students more options to help them tailor their education to their individual needs and goals.

Specifically, open enrollment allows students and their families to adapt to changing circumstances and to find the best educational experience available to them.

The UHSAA's transfer rule discourages the use of open enrollment; in fact, for many student-athletes it effectively renders that option useless.

It's time to modernize the transfer rule for student-athletes.

The current rule is based on an attend-where-you-live, play-where-you-live mentality that is a relic of the past.

Students who transfer under the state's open-enrollment law should remain eligible to participate in athletics.

All students should be free to pursue educational excellence using every opportunity available to them. No other consideration justifies the obstruction of that pursuit.

Matthew C. Piccolo is a policy analyst at Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy organization based in Salt Lake City.