Newly re-elected Pasco School Board member Steve Luikart wants to change the district's year-old rule governing student-athlete transfers. There is just one problem. Luikart could be opening the door for renewed cheating.
Luikart's aim is to make it easier for student-athletes to participate in varsity sports without missing a year of playing time if they transfer schools. Sitting out a year is the key component of the district's current policy, modeled after Hillsborough County's rules, that Luikart and the rest of the Pasco School Board adopted unanimously for the start of the 2013 school year.
But Luikart's tinkering, if approved by the full board, could spur a return to a former system that was akin to high school free agency, with student-athletes shopping for a school and coach to best showcase their athletic skills. It's a system that encourages fraud and triggered embarrassing scandals at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, which forfeited a 2011 state football championship, and at Land O'Lakes High School. At Land O'Lakes, the Gators forfeited 23 football games for the 2010-11 seasons after the head coach knowingly used a player who lived in another county and relied on a booster to provide a bogus local address to meet residency requirements.
This week, Luikart found little support among the rest of the board for his ideas. It's the correct call. During the 2013-14 school year, 184 Pasco district students appealed for restored eligibility and all but nine were allowed to play. That's nine who had to sit out in a pool of approximately 5,000 varsity athletes across the district. The puny numbers beg the question, why try to fix something that isn't broken?
Luikart previously identified a shortcoming of the rules that put an undue burden on students moving from the district's two alternative schools back to their original high schools. The district now routinely allows those students to participate in sports without having to appeal to the transfer committee.
But Luikart's latest proposal wasn't as simplistic. He unsuccessfully sought to suspend the policy and proposed a substantial rewrite to allow students to play sports if they attend the school for which they are zoned regardless of what school they attended the prior school year. He contended the rule unfairly punishes students and called the policy vague and open to subjective interpretation by the appeals committee. His observation, however, failed to account for a process that includes two opportunities for the students to appeal for a waiver. Most importantly, the transfer rule curbs the motivation to illegally recruit student-athletes to a particular school.
The rest of the Pasco School Board got it right. It shouldn't change its fair-play rule just because somebody didn't like the outcome of their appeal.