Changes ahead for DCIAA eligibility guidelines

By Alan Goldenbach
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; 6:34 PM

Dramatic changes to eligibility guidelines could be coming to the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association, according to Executive Director Marcus Ellis.

Among the proposed changes:

- Students will have to sit out a year of athletic competition if they transfer from one DCIAA school to another without a change in primary residence or extenuating circumstances.

- Students will have four consecutive years to complete their athletic eligibility.

- Stricter guidelines will be imposed for Ellis's office to sanction schools for compliance with the standards of competition as established by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

All D.C. Public Schools rules - including those for the DCIAA - are part of Title 5 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR), which are overseen by the D.C. Council. Ellis said he expects the Council to receive the proposal within the next month.

If ratified, Ellis said, the rules would take effect starting in the 2011-12 school year.

Ellis, who just completed his first year on the job this week, said he spent last school year observing the practices of athletes, coaches and administrators, both in the city as well as other jurisdictions before deciding which rules to change and how to do it. He said he has spent the past four months working with DCPS counsel to craft the legislation carefully to avoid the creation of any loopholes.

The transfer policy would be the most jarring to the DCIAA status quo. The city's policy of out-of-boundary transfers that allows students to apply to move from school to school for any reason has created competitive imbalance in several sports.

Ellis said the policy will remain that students can opt to enroll in any school when they begin ninth grade, even if it is out of their home boundary. Furthermore, if students want to return to the school that is in their home zone during their high-school career, they may do so without penalty.

"The process of kids transferring from school to school doesn't benefit their academics," he said. "I don't like kids transferring either to win a championship or to follow a coach. That's not putting education first.

"There has to be legitimacy for the transfer. It can't be just for sports purposes. We're going to have to work with the [DCPS] residency office and the coaches and the principals."

The elimination of the 10-semester rule, which allows students five years to complete four years of athletic eligibility, will finally happen more than two years after it was thought to be. DCPS Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said in a Nov. 1, 2007 interview with The Post that she would change the rule to limit students to four consecutive years to complete their eligibility, and her former spokesperson confirmed six months later that it had been changed. It never was.

Ellis said he had no idea the 10-semester policy still existed when he took over last year, but after discussions with other athletic administrators across the country this year, he said, "We were the only jurisdiction with that particular rule in place. Our student-athletes don't benefit from playing [in high school] what should be their freshman year in college. It doesn't benefit them academically.

"Sports are supposed to be a catalyst to an education and this holds them back. It's not our goal to win Turkey Bowls and City Title Games. It's our goal to build student-athletes."

Finally, Ellis would like to impose stricter guidelines on the schools his office sanctions as being compliant with the standards of competition established by the NFHS. This, he said, came as a result of some D.C. public charter schools gaining his sanctioning last school year, and then allowing students either over the city's age limit or in their fifth year of competition to suit up.

Public schools and most private schools nationwide are not allowed to schedule games against schools that are not sanctioned by a state high school association; Ellis's office serves that role for the District.

"We have to have something binding them to the standards that I'm sanctioning them to," Ellis said. "I was noticing last year that some of the schools that we were sanctioning weren't being held to that."

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