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A legislative committee has approved a bill that would give Utah students the ability to transfer once during their high school careers without having to sit out a year from sports.

Senate Bill 53, sponsored by Sen. Mark B. Madsen, R-Tooele, would amend new open enrollment and transfer guidelines passed by the Utah High School Activities Association last September. UHSAA officials are fighting the legislation amid concerns that such rules would only increase cases of athletic recruiting.

"While the bill is portrayed as anti-recruiting, it really would create an open season," UHSAA assistant director Bart Thompson said. "It's defined far too narrowly, and it would take away our authority to investigate these transfers."

Madsen introduced the bill as a way to allow students to become eligible for sports immediately following a transfer in the middle of their high school years.

Under current UHSAA policy, the association can grant students a waiver of ineligibility, with proof of hardship, if they transfer schools after their initial high school admission. If the UHSAA doesn't approve the waiver, the decision can be appealed.

If the legislation passes, any student who transfers on or before June 30 prior to the school year would be automatically eligible. If the UHSAA were to conduct an investigation, the association would have to prove the transfer was "primarily" for athletic reasons to deny eligibility. The UHSAA, which relies almost solely on testimony in its investigations, argues that such a law would essentially tie their hands in policing recruiting.

"We feel our current model deters recruiting," UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said. "Since we don't have subpoena power, if we changed the policy, it would make it almost impossible to determine the intent of any transfer."

Thompson said under the current policy, the UHSAA has denied only 11 waivers out of 290 requests. Three of the 11 have successfully appealed the original decision, and six of the remaining eight can still file an appeal.