Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995
High school sports laws in California are the bane of many parents, and students, existence. They are restrictive and can be confusing for one and all. One of the most common issues for students involves the transfer process, particularly when an overzealous parent calls up the new school prior to the transfer or an old coach is associated with the new school. This may be found to be “athletic motivation” and can result in the student not being able to participate in sports for one calendar year.
No student who transfers schools (whether they move or not) may participate in sports at their new school until they are granted permission by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the ruling body over California high school sports. CIF writes bylaws which are updated annually (usually during the summer) which cover most sports issues, including the ability of students to participate. If certain situations are found, such as athletic motivation, students will be restricted.
What is “athletic motivation” per CIF? Under CIF Bylaw 207C, what encompasses athletic motivation may include the following:
1) Relocation to a school within one year of a former high school coach moving to that school.
2) Relocation to a school when the student participated in a non-school athletic team (e.g. a club team) during the last 24 months, which is associated with the new school.
3) Relocation to a school where the coach of a student’s community team works or is associated.
4) Relocation to a school where a majority of students from the transferring student’s club or other community team attend.
5) Relocation to a school with which the student or their relatives have had pre-transfer contact, including but not limited to attendance at orientation or informational programs.
6) Relocation to a school about which the student or a relative has obtained pre-enrollment information from a third party, even via a friend who attends the school, a school club, or an intermediary.
7) Attendance at events of the transferring student (prior to transfer) by anyone representing the new school, e.g. a coach of the new school attends the student’s football practice at the old school prior to transfer.
Note: This may not be an exhaustive list.
Number 5 can even encompass a situation where a student has a friend attending the new school and talks to that friend about their school, then moves there. The transferring student may be found to have athletic motivation due to the pre-enrollment contact.
Here is what the CIF Bylaw 207C.(1) defines as pre-enrollment contact:
“Pre-enrollment contact may include, but is not limited to: any communication of any kind, directly or indirectly, with the student, parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver, relatives, or friends of the student about the athletic programs at a school; orientation/information programs, shadowing programs; attendance at outside athletic or similar events by anyone associated with the school to observe the student; participation by the student in programs supervised by the school or its associates before enrollment in school…”
[2016-17 CIF Constitution and Bylaws
If a student is found to be athletically motivated by CIF, they can try to overturn that decision by attacking the basis for CIF’s decision on appeal or by proving that:
“The [pre-enrollment] communication was completely unrelated to any aspect [of the new school] AND
Was of a type that, from the objective point of view of a reasonable person disinterested in the win/loss records of [the new school] does not have an effect upon the integrity of interscholastic athletics at [the old or new school].”
[CIF Bylaw 207C(9)].
All pre-enrollment contact must be disclosed to CIF.
If you sit scratching your head on how overbroad this is, you are not alone. From reading the bylaws, it seems that almost any contact with a new school prior to enrollment, could support athletic motivation. And, if a student’s second cousin, unbeknownst to the student, calls the school about football, this could be athletic motivation, and if a man who is married to a Board member talks to the student this could also be athletic motivation– and on and on… This is because the bylaw is written to encompass way to many situations and is untenable for most families to manage in the real world.
So, to try to avoid the athletically motivated allegation (hopefully), a family must ensure they avoid these situations. Otherwise, their child may be sitting on the bench at their new school for a full year unable to participate in sports.*
[*Please note this entry is based on the CIF rules from 2016-2017.]
Education Attorney for Students
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Sacramento, CA 95814
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Please see my disclaimer. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting. This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship. This blog may not reflect the current state of the law.