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Foreign Students Sent to The Stands by proposed CIF Rule Change

April 15, 2010 6 comments

Revision of CIF Bylaw 209 (Foreign Student Eligibility)
 would limit eligibility of all students attending a member school on an approved exchange program and all foreign transfer students. Students granted limited eligibility would be limited for one year (from the date of transfer) to non-varsity competition in the CIF sports they participated in during the previous 12 calendar months but may participate in varsity competition in all other CIF sports.

(April 15, 2010) The California Interscholastic Federation’s (CIF) proposed change to Bylaw 209 (Click here to read CIF document in full) effectively eliminates foreign students’ ability to participate in sports at the varsity level in any sports the student participated in during the twelve months preceding enrollment. The CIF plans to vote on this proposal at its May 7-8 Spring meeting in Sacramento at the Embassy Suites. (Note: see end of story for “How you can help stop this” information)

CIF believes recent violations of recruiting rules by a few exchange programs requires action – drastic action – to be taken to keep things right.

“It has been extremely apparent the last few years that more and more students are not being randomly placed in approved foreign exchange programs.  Rather, through various means the foreign student is asking to be placed at a specific school [for] athletically motivated reasons. Four (4) foreign exchange programs have been placed on probation for this year for violating CIF 510.” (Click here to read CIF document in full)

The proposed change addresses CIF concerns by allowing exchange and foreign students varsity participation only in sports they had not participated in, at any level, during the past twelve months:

“Foreign Exchange students transferring under the auspices of a CIF-approved foreign exchange program from a school located outside the United States, a U.S. Military Base, a U.S. Territory or Canada to a CIF member school may be granted residential eligibility for all CIF athletic competition EXCEPT varsity level competition in sports in which the student has competed at any level of play for a school or club during the 12 calendar months preceding the date of transfer to the CIF member school. (Click here to read CIF document in full)

Simply put, no matter the level of participation during the preceding twelve months, an exchange or foreign student would not be given varsity status. JV to varsity? No. Freshman to varsity? No. Club to varsity? No.

While seemingly sensible given the proposed rules’ congruence with similar eligibility and transfer rules for US students, the rule change when understood in context of US Immigration rules around foreign and exchange students, winds up creating a situation where these students won’t be able to participate in varsity sports.

Here’s why.

First, foreign exchange programs limit student’s attendance at US High Schools to a maximum of one academic year. Once a student’s exchange year is completed, the student is required by US immigration law to return to their home country for two years before returning to the United States. (Click here to read US Immigration Laws related to exchange students)

Second, foreign students attending high school in the US on an F-1 Visa are limited by law to one year of public high school attendance. There is no limit placed on these students’ attendance at private schools. (Click here to read US Immigration Laws related to foreign students)

Given US law limits foreign exchange and foreign students attendance at public schools to one year, no foreign exchange or foreign student attending a public high school would be able to participate in a varsity sport after the limited eligibility period expired since they’d no longer attend the school or would have returned to their country of origin.

The only possibility for foreign students to play varsity sports would be through attendance at a private school since US law does not restrict the length of foreign students attendance at private schools. Here a student would have to wait one year before playing a varsity sport but the student would still be around since the one-year rule only applies to public schools.

The short here is an exchange or foreign student attending a public high school will not be able to participate in his or her “sport of record”. That’s the price they’d pay for electing to participate in an exchange program or attend high school in the US. That’s also the price they’d pay for historical recruiting rules violations done by a few schools.

Our view is this is the classic case of “kick the dog”. The real culprits are not the students. The real culprits are the exchange programs and coaches who deliberately “work the system” to get star players into varsity programs.

A better solution to enact would be to seriously penalize exchange programs, schools and coaches found to be violating CIF rules. “Probation” for violations isn’t enough. It’s a slap on the wrist that causes no pain to a program, school or coaching staff. It just means they’ll work harder to not get caught the next time.

Why not impose sanctions that matters? Something with teeth in it like forfeited games for first time violations. That would put violators on notice and certainly decrease the number of attempts to “work the system.”

Penalizing students is not the right way to handle this problem. There are more students following the rules than not. Why throw the baby out with the bath water?

If you’re reading this CIF, go after the violators not the students.

How can you help?

If you’d like to voice your displeasure with the proposed change to CIF Bylaw 209, contact CIF Executive Director, Marie Ishida via email at ishidasan@cifstate.org or call her at (916) 239.4477.  You can find CIF section commissioner contact information at http://cifstate.org/about/sections/index.html.

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And the moral of the story is…

Let’s start with the end.

“If we start interpreting every single rule, we would be so bogged down,” [CIF] Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said. “It would bring this organization to a standstill.” (story)

No one wants to be bogged down or at a standstill, right? In my opinion, the potential standstill or bog-down aren’t the real issue though. It’s really about the potential increased cost of having someone interpret the rules and apply them based on the circumstances. CIF believes it costs more to be reasonable. Lord knows our real judicial system relies on interpretation and gives plenty of consideration to circumstance. So why can’t CIF?

Bogged down? More expensive? Sounds plausible, but let’s think it through for a second. If reasonably-minded adults evaluated CIF decisions without its Bylaws, I bet their “performance” would be better than CIFs and it would cost a whole lot less to defend challenged decisions. As a matter of point, CIF spends more than $1.1 million each year on legal fees (document). The majority, more than $800,000, apparently is straight-up legal fees associated with defending itself at appeals hearings and in court challenges.

Here are a couple of real-life scenarios to consider – First, in 2005, “A high school relay team, among the fastest in California, is disqualified from a championship race because one of the runners is wearing different-colored underpants.” (Story) Second, “A baseball team wins its first-round playoff game, 4-0, then must forfeit because its coach, who had been suspended for a game, is seen watching — but not coaching — from down the street.” (Story)

Yes, this sounds ridiculous but in both cases CIF rules were upheld. In the case of the baseball coach, he should have probably watched the game at home via streaming video or at least from two or more blocks away. And I’m sure track fans were aghast at the sight of three chaps wearing one color underpants and their amigo wearing another.

Could CIF think for a second and be fair and reasonable here? Heck no! No one wants to get bogged down, you know. I don’t even need to go further here to have proven my point and won my bet. Any reasonably-minded adult would have clearly looked beyond these “infractions”. Especially when considering what was at stake.

Sadly, stories like this abound in California. Ask around and I’m sure you’ll quickly find someone who can tell you a story of the rigidity demonstrated by CIF in applying its rules – Rigidity that flies in the face of common sense and fairness as we know it.

 In a sorry attempt to clarify CIF’s position in regards to the relay and baseball teams, Jim Staunton, then commissioner of CIF Southern Section had this to say, “It can even appear to be a minor or a small point, but … our obligation is to uphold [CIF rules] as much as, maybe personally, we may not like to. Otherwise, there are no rules.”

Hey Jim, I hope when you and others at CIF wind up in a court of law looking for leniency, the judge looks you square in the eye and says, “No interpretation here folks. We can’t afford to get bogged down.”