Six football players left Northeast High on Tuesday — just two weeks before the start of fall practice. And while a mass exodus of players from one Tampa Bay school on the same day is certainly remarkable, the moves appear perfectly legal.
As long as the players aren’t called “transfers.”
Five of the players were initially zoned for Lakewood and one other for Boca Ciega. According to the Florida High School Athletic Association, the moves were legal despite the fact that the players worked out all summer with Northeast.
The FHSAA defines a transfer as a situation when “a student makes any change in schools after he/she establishes residency at a school each year” (bylaw 9.3.1).
“Simply put, transfers only exist during the school year,” FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. “If a change in schools occurs during the summer, it is not considered a transfer. With that being the case, whether or not it is the student’s zoned school is irrelevant in this particular instance.”
Though the FHSAA seems to have a hands-off policy in the summer, counties sometimes play by different rules — and define “transfers” a little differently.
Pasco and Hillsborough counties, for example, require student-athletes who change schools after their initial high school enrollment to sit out of athletics for a year — with some exceptions.
And in Hillsborough, transfer students may appeal before a school district-formed panel that meets periodically. Since its inception less than a year ago, the panel has granted most appeals. But the athlete has to abstain from athletics until the appeal is heard.
In Pinellas County, there are no clearly defined transfer rules.
Pinellas County athletic director Nick Grasso said his primary concern would be if anyone from Lakewood or Boca Ciega had contacted the athletes before they decided to leave.
“People have the fundamental right to choose where they want to go to school, and for whatever reason,” said Grasso, who added that no one from Northeast has contacted him.
“But if there was prior contact made before the move, that would raise a red flag with me, and we would have issues.”
Without knowing all the particulars of the Northeast situation, Grasso said if there was no prior contact, then the players moving back to their zoned schools isn’t an issue.
On Tuesday, Northeast principal Kevin Hendrick questioned whether the moves were for the right reasons. “It seems pretty clear this was done for athletic reasons,” he said.
While a move purely to seek better athletic opportunities is frowned upon at the state and county levels — the FHSAA said via Twitter that it “supports and endorses school choice for ACADEMIC purposes” — it’s also hard to prove. And it wouldn’t apply in this case at the state level because the FHSAA bylaw that prohibits a move “in whole or in part for athletic reasons” deals only with school-year transfers.
The one rule that is perfectly clear in all of this is that no player can follow his coach — no matter what time of the year he leaves.
Dan Mancuso, Northeast’s offensive coordinator the past two years, left to take the same position with Admiral Farragut over the weekend. Mancuso had a close relationship with the defecting Northeast players, especially junior quarterback Ryan Davis.
Mancuso coached Davis’ older brother, Chris, at St. Petersburg Catholic and was a big reason Ryan decided to enroll at Northeast as a freshman three years ago.
According to FHSAA bylaw 9.2.5: “A student who establishes residence at a school within one year of the relocation of any member of the coaching staff of the student’s sport(s) …will not be eligible to participate in the sport(s) coached by that coach until the student has been in attendance for one calendar year if said coach is in any way affiliated with the athletic program at the new school.”
So none of the Northeast players could enroll at Admiral Farragut this school year and play football.
But next school year it’s not an issue.
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.