March 5, 2020
For students wishing to attend West High without changing their place of residence, things can become a little more complicated.
Open enrollment is defined by the Iowa Department of Education as “a cost-free option by which parents/guardians residing in an Iowa district may enroll their children into another Iowa school district.” Students who wish to open enroll must fill out an application detailing reasons for leaving the school district, which is sent to both the resident and receiving district’s superintendent.
If a student is approved to transfer without changing their place of residence, they are still ineligible for varsity athletic competition during the first 90 school days of enrollment at their new school. Assistant IAHSAA director Todd Tharp stresses the state’s prioritization of student’s education over athletics as reason for this restriction.
“To us they are students first, that’s the most important part,” Tharp said. “If they are out looking for a school, we encourage that it should be for academic reasons.”
The ineligibility requirement also deters athletes from transferring on a whim, insuring that any student transferring has a legitimate reason that outweighs the punishment of sitting for 90 days.
There is, however, a well-known loophole to this rule. For many athletes, avoiding the 90 day ineligibility period simply means transferring more than 90 days before the start of their athletic season.
Basketball player Even Brauns ’20 open enrolled at West in the spring of 2018 in order to be eligible for the start of the basketball season in the fall of 2018.
“[My parents] didn’t even know there was a rule about sitting out or anything. They called the athletic department, and then I had to transfer in like two days,” Brauns said. “We weren’t planning to transfer until after my sophomore year was over and then we found out and I literally had two days to leave and get enrolled here.”
Brauns, a recent University of Belmont commit, feels his decision to transfer to West from Regina is helping better prepare him for his college basketball career in the form of tougher competition and better talent development.
“I just felt like I wasn’t improving [at Regina] the way I felt I should,” Brauns said. “My parents just felt like kids on my [club basketball] team were getting better during the high school season, and I was kind of staying the same.”
With the open enrollment system in Iowa, athletes, especially highly-touted prospects like Brauns, can be recruited to play for any program in the state. While outcries from parents and coaches have been directed at the IAHSAA regarding high school athletic recruitment, there is nothing stopping schools from recruiting student-athletes as outlined in the Iowa state code.
“There’s schools here in North Central Iowa that put great, big huge billboards in other school [districts] to say ‘Hey, come to our school.’ That happens all the time,” Tharp said. “Any high school in the state of Iowa can recruit.”
While there are no restrictions against recruiting, there are major penalties for any athletic programs found giving undue influence to student-athletes from other schools.
“[Undue influence is] more along the lines of saying … we’ll make sure we’ll get your parents both jobs, we’ll guarantee that you’re going to start for us,” Tharp said. “[Our focus] is not necessarily recruitment but more on undue influence.”
Tharp is fully aware of the apparent loophole within the open enrollment system, and personally calls for an extension of the ineligibility period to 180 school days, forcing athletes to sit out entire seasons before becoming eligible the following year.
“If it was a whole calendar year then [athletes] would have to sit out all of those sports, and you would see how serious and really bad it is for these transfers,” Tharp said. “I know there are some athletic directors around the state that have that sentiment, and I think they feel that would stop a lot of issues.”