Could Washington high school sports see a transfer portal?

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The Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) is currently deliberating potential rule adjustments amidst ongoing discussions about student-athlete transfers, with the aim of balancing academic priorities and athletic opportunities.

Gaining a competitive edge by switching to a better school

It’s something college athletes do all the time using a transfer portal. However, it’s a trend that Washington athletics officials are wary of extending to the high school level. The WIAA emphasizes the importance of prioritizing academics and expresses concerns that implementing a transfer portal could complicate matters. Nonetheless, WIAA Executive Director Mike Hoffman says they’re open to reevaluating longstanding eligibility rules for transfers.

“Our goal with this is to not have a portal at the high school level,” Hoffman said.

Some states, like New Jersey, for example, allow student-athletes to swap schools for an athletic advantage. That’s not the case in Washington. One of the current rules states students in our state can only keep their athlete status if their family moves into a new district, forcing them to transfer.

“Every season there’s questions around ‘how did this kid from there, go there’; we deal with eligibility,” Hoffman said.

WIAA reports approximately 400 students are transferring this year, a figure consistent with previous years, according to Hoffman. By state law, students can choose what school they go to when they’re in eighth and going into ninth grade. WIAA athletic eligibility guidelines come into play when a student moves anytime after that.

“There’s a lot of different reasons,” Hoffman said, explaining why students move. “If they move as a full family unit, which this group has identified, what’s full family unit mean and 2021, as opposed to 1981? It’s very different. So that’s part of where make sure our rules align with how society has changed.”

A committee of 22 individuals across the state is currently exploring potential rule changes that would allow athletes to maintain eligibility after relocating. However, concerns have been raised about the possibility of creating ‘super teams’.

Maurice Hines, a basketball coach and trainer, does not support the idea of a transfer portal like the NCAA does at the college level.

“We don’t want them to be in the portal,” Coach Hines said.

“The intent of high school athletics isn’t to generate TV revenue and make millions of dollars for people,” Hoffman said. “It’s to give students participation.”

The WIAA has concerns about the participation in light of the potential emergence of ‘super teams,’ which could sideline other students from participation due to increased competition resulting from a potential transfer portal.

“We want to all students to participate and if it becomes super teams there’s going to be a lot of students who choose not to play in other schools because they can’t compete,” Hoffman said.

WIAA says their priority is keeping students connected to their education.

“By keeping them in a common community with friends and family and people they know, hopefully, a place maybe they’ve grown up, they get to create lifetime memories,” Hoffman said. “I do not want what the NCAA has. I don’t think there’s anybody in our state that wants a portal.”

The WIAA is focused on eligibility rules that meet the needs of students. 

“We do want to look at a rule and see if there’s adjustments we need to make; maybe a compromise to meet student and family needs and also be in alignment with laws moving forward,” Hoffman said.

Any new rule proposals must originate from the association’s membership by the middle of October, with a vote expected no earlier than May 2025.

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