New MHSAA director explains new transfer rule

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published August 30, 2018

 Mark Uyl

Mark Uyl

METRO DETROIT — The Michigan High School Athletic Association instituted a new rule for this academic year, stating that if a student transfers to the new school, they are ineligible the following year in any sport participated in the previous year.

For example, if a sophomore football and basketball player left his school at the end of the year, he would be unable to play those two sports as a junior at his new location. However, he would be immediately eligible for other pursuits like soccer in the fall and wrestling in the winter.

There are 15 exceptions to this rule that include aspects like a complete family move, the previous school closing its doors or enrolling in a new school due to a divorce. The complete list can be found at mhsaa.com.

Mark Uyl is the new executive director of the MHSAA, taking over this year after the retirement of John E. “Jack” Roberts, who had helmed the position since 1986.

Uyl said the new rule will be one of the main talking points in his inaugural year at the head of the state’s governing body, saying he will go on a tour around Michigan throughout the fall and winter to further explain the change.

“There’s a push and pull with the new transfer rule,” Uyl said. “If I change schools and don’t meet an exception to that rule, I am immediately ineligible for two semesters. Previously, I only had to sit out one semester. The rule becomes tougher in that way, but the new rule is also more lax. It used to be I was ineligible in everything for that semester, but now if I was only a basketball player at my old school, I can play anything else at my new school besides that.”

Uyl joined the MHSAA in January 2004, serving as an assistant director and the chief coordinator of officiating. He stressed the change has been in the works for some time.

“We certainly heard a lot of people talking and asking about the transfer rule for a long time. I think there’s a lot of heartburn about athletically motivated transfers everywhere — it’s not just a Michigan issue,” Uyl said. “The entire process to change the rule started before last school year. It’s not connected to any cases, and anybody that thinks that is definitely mistaken.”

Uyl explained that the school that the student leaves no longer has to sign off on the move.

“It becomes much more black and white. It is strictly based on the circumstance of a student,” Uyl said. “It gets us and our schools out of the business of trying to determine exactly why a kid transfers. … It really gets schools out of the business of having to investigate, and limits accusations by a former school and the current school needing to gather evidence.”

However, Uyl did say that a move of only a town over will draw extra attention.

“There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny when a student and family move from one district to another in a short distance,” Uyl remarked. “There will need to be proofs by both schools in order to be eligible when it is within 10 miles. The former residence has to be vacated and either sold or completely empty and on the market.”

Uyl said it is frustrating for both MHSAA officials and those in the stands and sidelines to see a “super team” form via transfers.

“This rule is meant to help the programs that are trying to build things the right way. Schools that start with elementary programs, putting quality coaches in the middle school, and having solid freshman and JV teams,” Uyl explained. “Those schools get to a point where they have juniors and seniors that they have built up. But sometimes they have to face schools where the elementary and lower programs are poor, they have no JV teams to really speak of, but six kids transfer in as juniors and seniors. That creates the most heartburn. We needed to put more teeth in the transfer rule, because frankly it has become unfair to schools trying to build it up the right way when they face that.”

Uyl noted that about 2 percent of the total numbers of kids playing sports have transferred for athletic reasons. 

“That small group drives the conversation. When one of those kids is a game-changing player and you see them bounce from school to school to school, that creates a lot of upset people,” he said.

Uyl also said the newfound teammates of one of those “game-changing” players also have their high school experience affected.

“The kids that are often forgotten about with transfers are those homegrown kids on the team that are displaced,” Uyl said. “They are no longer playing as much as they used to or are even off the team.”