State Ed. proposes changes to eligibilty rules

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By Michael Kelly

The State Education Department proposed two changes to eligibility rules for student-athletes earlier this week, both of which New York State Public High School Athletic Association Executive Director Robert Zayas said Tuesday need to be examined further.

“There’s a need for some additional clarification within each proposal because there are some questions I have as an executive director that I know our member schools will have,” he said.

One change would allow more leniency for student-athletes requesting an extra year of playing eligibility. The other would clarify the ability for kids at districts serving students only in kindergarten through eighth grade to be eligible to compete in athletics at a separate district with which the K-8 district contracts for the high school education of its students. The latter change also contains a provision in which such a student-athlete could find himself or herself ineligible for a year if he or she chooses to attend a different high school for ninth grade than the one he or she competed for while in seventh and eighth grade.

Related to the proposal regarding gaining an extra year of playing eligibility, student-athletes currently run out of eligibility four school years after starting ninth grade and can only petition for an extra year if they can show “illness [or] accident” kept them from competing athletically and forced them to have at least one extra academic semester to complete.

The proposed change would allow student-athletes not yet 19 years old prior to July 1 of the approaching school year to additionally petition for another year of eligibility if they are able to show “other circumstances beyond [their] control” forced them to miss a season and time in the classroom.

Such a change would revert the state’s policy to what it was prior to October 2014. Zayas said his concern with switching back is how it would be determined if a petitioning student-athlete could meet the “subjective” criteria of not putting the safety of others — plus his or her own — at risk and that his or her participation would not create an unfair competitive advantage.

The measure involving K-8-only school districts — of which there are 13 in the state, including Menands School District in Menands, Wheelerville

Union Free School in Caroga Lake and Wynantskill Union Free School District in North Greenbush — states that seventh- and eighth-graders attending such districts could gain athletic eligibility at one of the high schools with which his or her district contracts, if both districts agree to such an arrangement. The caveat is that if a student-athlete competes for one high school but elects to attend a different high school with which his or her K-8 district contracts for ninth grade, he or she would be ruled ineligible for a year in the sports he or she played.

Currently, Zayas said students at K-8-only districts apply on a case-by-case basis to compete for a high school’s teams and that he knows of only a “few instances” in which such a student succeeded.

Zayas added he has two primary concerns in regards to the proposal as it is written. One, that there’s no clarific­ation as to which school district — the K-8-only district or the high school’s district — would pay for things such as insurance and transportation for such student-athletes. Two, that such a provision could enable other groups of students — whether from public or non-public schools — the ability to petition to play sports at other schools if their own district does not offer that opportunity.

“You constantly have to be cognizant of the precedents each decision and regulation . . . establishes,” Zayas said. “That’s where we need clar­ification.”

Both proposed amendments will be made available for 45 days of public comment starting on Nov. 9. Following that, the proposals could be adopted in February and put into place for the 2017-18 school year.

“It needs to be discussed within our membership as far as to see if there is opposition or not,” Zayas said.