Testimony in Support of SB 53 (Eligibility for Interscholastic Activities in Secondary Schools)

I’m here to speak in support of SB 53. We commend Sen. Madsen for bringing this bill forward.

According to UHSAA data, in the past five years, an average of 530 student-athletes transferred high schools [under open enrollment] each year. Of those student-athletes, the UHSAA concluded that an average of 14 per year, or 2.7 percent, transferred for “athletic motivation” and, therefore, under its old rule, denied these students athletic eligibility for a full year.

While some of the remaining 97.3 percent of students may have transferred for athletic motives without the UHSAA discovering their intent, the vast majority likely transferred primarily or solely for purposes unrelated to athletics, such as academics, social environment, or other personal reasons that very few people, if any, would object to.

Under the UHSAA’s new transfer rule, all of these 530 student-athletes who transferred would have lost a year of eligibility, even those who transferred purely for academic reasons, unless the UHSAA had granted them a hardship waiver.

This new rule discourages student-athletes from transferring to improve their educational experience. It burdens them with a choice they should never have to make: “Do I choose academics or athletics?” This unnecessary burden is not imposed on any other type of student – not drama students, chess players, debate team members, or students who choose not to play sports. These other students can benefit from the state’s open-enrollment law without repercussions.

In attempting to regulate competition and prevent recruiting, the UHSAA has crafted a transfer rule that [says, in essence, “A few of you haven’t been playing nice in the sandbox, so nobody can play in the sandbox.” It] focuses on the exception rather than the norm. It inhibits most student-athletes from improving their lives educationally just to discourage the few who want to transfer for athletic purposes. This flawed approach elevates athletics above academics, which promotes precisely what the UHSAA says it wants to prevent.

Furthermore, if recruiting is a real concern that merits attention, then the UHSAA should find avenues to regulate and discipline its member schools and coaches, but it should not punish student-athletes and their families by limiting their educational options.

Thirty different states have transfer rules that are less restrictive than the UHSAA’s new rule, and of those 30, at least five include provisions that allow their open-enrollment students to retain some or all of their athletic eligibility upon transferring.

The transfer rules of five states allow open-enrollment students to retain some or all of their eligibility upon transferring. Three of those states – Nebraska, South Dakota and Connecticut – have transfer rules similar to the Utah Legislature’s proposed open rule, and the activities associations of all three states have reported that “super teams” are not an issue for them. Delaware and Arkansas also have exceptions for open enrollment, but their rules are more restrictive than Utah’s proposed open rule. The activities associations in those states have expressed only minor concerns about super teams.

High school athletics are a valuable part of public education, but this discussion is not about what sports teams, schools, or the public education system want – it is about giving all students and their families every possible opportunity to chart their own course to success. We believe this proposal is reasonable and fair and we ask you to support it.