The Courier-Journal’s Jason Frakes stirred quite the hornet’s nest by noting accurately that Warren Central’s entry in this year’s boys state tournament was comprised of a number of transfers. Frakes made no accusations and the intent of the tweet was unclear, but merely mentioning the fact caused a number of folks to speak up and have their voices heard on the elephant which has been in the gym pretty much forever…transfers.
It truly is a tale as old as time. And it is a tale that explains a lot about us as human beings. It ties in to what is happening now with NCAA DI hoops and even the statewide argument over tax credits for families seeking to place their children in private schools.
And the moral of the tale is this: Whatever system any governing body makes, a handful of folks will find any number of ways to circumvent it all the while maintaining compliance with the writing of the law. We will without a doubt break the spirit of the law all the while complying with the letter of it. This in turn makes everyone look guilty. And it makes what should be easily applicable rules nearly impossible to enforce.
This is why our federal and state tax codes are nearly unreadable and certainly unbearable to try to understand. This is why we have myriad lawyers making fine wages (not that I begrudge them). This is why so many of us stay so frustrated with our governments and our organizations and, well, just about everything.
To start, transfers happen. People move. Some of those folks have kids and some of them are decent athletes. The idea that people should stay exactly where they are forever is an impossibility and frankly absurd. Therefore, it is reasonable to have some rules in place to allow for new students to participate in whatever activities at the school they attend.
I have moved several times. Each time has been about employment. The last time it involved my kids. So by definition if Brody or Harper end up being good at any sport, then Metcalfe Co. will have benefited from a transfer. But in this scenario, I doubt anyone would mind.
The issue is that a ton of folks don’t move for real reasons other than to play sports. Usually this move is at the behest of an adult, a coach or a booster or a parent. It is designed either for personal gain or to increase the odds of winning. Because, of course, everyone likes to win.
The state rightfully tries to deter this behavior for a number of reasons. At the heart are two of the state’s real missions in supporting interscholastic athletics in the first place: participation for an educational purpose and an adherence to original intent.
The number one priority of the KHSAA is to promote student participation so as to enhance the educational experience. The idea is that the more kids are involved the better they do in school. Athletics gives positive outlets and opportunities to kids and increases the odds that those kids graduate and do well in school and eventually in life. As idealistic as that sounds, it is empirically factual. If it were not, then educational institutions should and would get out of the sports business altogether.
(Coaches employed by educational entities therefore are simply teachers hired by respective schools to teach the kids they have. And they can do so with good players or not good players. But this another post for another day…)
Across the state participation numbers are down (or at least that is what I have been led to believe). It would behoove us to explore the reasons why and I am sure folks at the state level are doing so. But I would posit that the transfer culture now so prevalent in our primary sports, especially on the boys side does little good.
And it is not just the homegrown, middling players who quit. Often so does the community.
In some cases this is not so, but in most rural spots in Kentucky, the locals want to see their kids play more than they want a state title. Communities will tolerate a couple of transfers (especially if the transfers are for legitimate reason and/or have legitimate ties to the community) but at the point that the entirety of the team is a glorified AAU squad, most folks just stop going to games.
Which brings us to original intent. My guess is that years ago when we first started having school teams it wasn’t really about winning state tournaments. In fact, if Jesse Stuart is to be believed, it really wasn’t about winning at all. In his book, The Thread That Runs So True, he describes organizing a math team and a baseball team and how he would take his group to compete with neighboring schools. They won some and lost some and mostly had a good time. He and the other teacher/coach umpired and judged as well. When it was over, folks shook hands and walked back home.
This is what our interscholastic sports are supposed to be. I understand how unrealistic and idealistic that sounds, but at the heart of it, that is really what school sports are supposed to be. It was never meant to be what it has become. It was always meant to be a recreation. It was supposed to be a break from the mundane. It was meant to be a small slice of the educational pie and in fact an opportunity to teach but in a different classroom. It was meant as a way for the kids from Summer Shade to get some exercise and enjoyment cooperatively with the kids from Rockbridge.
If only it had stayed that simple.
But we have turned it into a monster. And by we, I mean the adults. It is always the adults who ruin stuff, never the kids. In our ridiculous attempt to either regain or relive or reinvent our youth, we have used our children to live vicariously through them and in the process have created a corrupt system in which most of us either turn a blind eye or use weak logic to justify our actions. And when we do, the kids lose. Because they see our immature behaviors and out of whack priorities and assume this is just how it is and perhaps how it should be.
The NCAA is no different. We can make any number of rules we wish, but when we try to tie academic institutions to multi-million dollar business, we will get exactly what we deserve. We will get more nefarious underlings from various self serving agencies be they AAU coaches, shoe executives or whomever (To be clear, not all AAU coaches or shoe executives or whomevers are corrupt). And then we will somehow be aghast when someone is caught cheating.
But again, we get what we deserve. LSU seemed to take at least a bit of a high road by suspending Will Wade. The crowd at the next home game mercilessly booed the AD who suspended him.
And this folks is exactly who we are. We vilify those who try to enforce the very rules we say we want and then glorify those who break those rules. And we do so all the while scoffing at the many who actually try to do things the right way and within the rules. Because for every Will Wade there is some idealistic young fellow somewhere who just lost his job for going 8-19 while trying to obey the laws of the game. His name you will never know. But odds are he knows just as much about the game and how to coach it as the cheaters do.
Recently a bill was introduced that would give people tax credits for providing scholarships for kids to attend private schools. Supporters argue it would give disadvantaged kids and families the same opportunities wealthier families currently have. Perhaps. But most of us see it for what it likely is, another system set up for people to game. And if our high school athletics or collegiate athletics or our tax system or anything else out there is any indication, that is exactly what it would become.
Again, create any system, and it doesn’t take long for folks to ruin it no matter how well written the laws or how well intended the system. How to fix that…it would take making people less interested in self and more interested in the fairness of the system and the well being of the whole. It would require us being less win-at-all-costs and more cooperative. It would take our leaders to be more purpose-focused and servant-minded. It would take an AD or administrator giving a coach some time and rewarding a strong ethical culture more than just winning games. And it would take fans who would support that even if it meant not winning every year. In essence it would take a preponderance of people with real integrity. In this climate of hot takes and fake news and vitriolic “gotcha” politics it would seem far fetched and maybe a bit too much to ask for.
So good luck with that…