Written by Nick Hampton, VYPE Plus Editor – Muskogee Area
As someone who has covered high school sports as a broadcaster and journalist for 50 years, last week’s ruling by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association concerning the “Free Transfer” rule was a discouraging yet probably necessary decision.
Just to clarify, for years it has been the Association’s rule that a student who wanted to transfer from one school to another had to (1) establish residency in the new district and (2) sit out a year of eligibility. This new ruling eliminates both of those guidelines allowing a student the freedom to move to a new district and start playing immediately. I spoke with some of the well -known coaches and administrators in our area to gauge their reaction to the ruling which went from grudging acceptance to why change?
Veteran Wagoner coach and athletic director Dale Condict was one of those who sees the change as an opportunity for schools in his position.
“It was inevitable, and I understand why they did it. I think for schools like us it could be beneficial. We’ve got highly successful programs in place in many of our sports and with the upgrades we’ve made to facilities like the football stadium and planned upgrades to the basketball arena and baseball and softball fields, it puts us in a strong position for someone looking to make a change and that’s really what this comes down to is how marketable is your school through the eyes of someone wanting a change?”
Muskogee athletic director Dr. Jason Parker had similar thoughts.
“I think it’s something that’s been a long time coming given all that we’re seeing take place on the college level and the desire in our society to have more options in our everyday transactions whether it’s buying a new car or a new phone or, shopping for a new school. We’re way past the time when a kid felt they had to stay in the school district where they were raised and I’m happy to see the association take a more modernized stance. I think it’s a matter of marketing your program to make it appealing in athletics, facilities or academics to students who see you as a better alternative to their present situation.”
Rougher football coach Travis Hill is a guy who falls into the grudging acceptance category.
“I think this is going to be a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer athletically and makes achieving parity in athletics even more difficult. It puts more stress on the coaches, kids, parents-everyone involved in the process. If you have good coaches, good parents, good leaders and good kids, I think it’s neat that kids now have another option. But I know that often times we take what could be a positive and manipulate it into a negative. And if that happens you could see the death of some athletic programs such as in the inter-city programs that are already struggling against the more affluent programs in the suburban areas.”
Basketball Hall of Fame coach Gary Hendrix at Hilldale is one of those on the no side.
“I don’t know all the details yet but from what I understand, I’m not a fan of this ruling at all. I know they’re (OSSAA) going to try and police the recruiting factor but I’m afraid it will become like the transfer portal in college. In their defense, I think the OSSAA is trying to do something to preempt the state legislature from getting involved and mandating changes.”
And long-time, highly successful girls’ basketball coach and now athletic director at Fort Gibson, Chuck London, is another with a negative take.
“I’m pretty skeptical of the whole thing and I’m not a fan right now just because I’m old school and I like the way we’ve done it in the past. It makes it really tough and how it will affect things I don’t think we really know. I was definitely against it, but I understand why the OSSAA was pushing for it. I respect them but don’t always agree with them, but I think it was probably inevitable that something like this was going to happen.”
And what about the temptation that this might lead to to more blatant recruiting of athletes?
“Is it going to be the wild, wild West?”, asked London. “That’s a possibility and no one wants that. We see what’s happening in college athletics with the portal and no one really wants that at the high school level.”
For Parker, it’s more a matter of marketing than recruiting.
“It’s still wrong to go out and actively solicit an athlete but even now there are coaches on social media raising their flag saying “we’re taking all commers. Here’s how to reach me.” To me that’s wrong and I would hope the OSSA will keep an eye on that. But I still think it’s really about marketing which we deal with every day. That’s how we’ve managed to get the jobs, spouses and friends we have today by marketing ourselves, so why not put your program out there in the best possible light and see what happens?”
But for me as an interested observer and a member of his generation, I tend to agree with the thoughts of Gary Hendrix.
“I’m afraid kids that are unhappy where they are will shop themselves around to schools and coaches that need that kind of player might cross the line and I just don’t think that should be a part of high school athletics. I’m just glad I’m nearing the end of my coaching career and hopefully won’t be too involved with this.”