From the Bench: Quick Thought on State Legislature's Passing of High School Transfer Portal Bill - It Stinks

By Jeff Toquinto on March 26, 2023 from Sports Blog via

A few weeks back I told you about a Senate bill introduced for the second year in a row at the West Virginia Legislature that I truly believe could change the face of high school sports in the state if passed. It has passed, and it appears as if some of the things I said would happen are already happening.
Before going there, and before hearing from the top high school sports representative in the state in West Virginia Second Schools Activities Commission’s Bernie Dolan, allow me to give a brief synopsis for first-timers or those needing a refresher.
The Senate bill in question is now actually a House bill. For official purposes it is dubbed “HB 2820.” The portion of it I am going to focus on (there is more to it that I think is misguided thinking) is the bill allows students in grades 9-12 to transfer one time for any reason to another school. Unlike the prior rules, you can transfer one time without losing a year of eligibility. In other words, a high school transfer portal.
I said it in my blog when it was introduced, and I will say it again. Despite the arguments – and perhaps well-intentioned ones – of it being a bill of fairness and to let the kids play, this bill stinks.
For those who do not think overzealous adults, boosters, alumni, and coaches are not going to try to find a way to create the next “super team” with the aid of this legislation in their school district, you are kidding yourselves. Heck, it happened long before this bill that will certainly amp things up.
If you do not believe me, then maybe you will listen to Kanawha County Republican Delegate Dana Ferrell. Ferrell, a former coach who understands what is at stake way better than I imagine most of his colleagues, was a guest on Hoppy Kercheval’s MetroNews show and did more than explain why he voted against the legislation. He said the damage has already started – and it started immediately.
Before going there, how did Farrell describe the bill?
“This is a travesty,” said Farrell. “We have unleashed a beast.”
Farrell then took it one step further. And it was one heck of a step explaining the damage already in play.
“Before ink was even dry on that bill Saturday evening (on the last day of the session), I had screenshots of coaches that were poaching other schools,” said Farrell, who said the shots he received came when the bill was being passed through the legislative chambers. “… I have documentation of coaches reaching out to parents of other schools to try to make that connection to woo that kid over.”
Before this bill ever saw the light of day, transfers were a problem for the WVSSAC. They have been a problem long before Dolan took over, and it is due to the aforementioned overzealous folks listed above.
Dolan said the WVSSAC has 10 meetings annually and during each of those meetings they see about 10 to 12 appeal cases Some may be surprised to learn, according to Dolan, that since COVID there is about a 60 percent or higher approval on legitimate hardship transfers.
The process starts at the school level and then, even after the meeting Dolan referenced above, if a denial is given, the individual seeking a transfer can take it to a Board of Appeals.
“Transfers take up too much time now, and it’s a process. “This is not going to make it better. Tracking this is going to cause problems.”
Understand, Dolan let the elected folks who congregate in Charleston know that as the representative of high schools, their administrators, and coaches, they were opposed to it. That objection by the person more in tune with high school athletics than any elected official meant pretty much nothing.
“Here’s something I know is going to happen. Once everyone who wants to transfer does and things don’t go their way, they will find a reason not to be happy,” he continued. “They will want to play somewhere else, and we’ll end up seeing as many appeals, probably more, because students and their families have decided not to work through the issues of high school athletics. The thing is, those are the ones that can never be happy.”
Dolan did not stop there. He also addressed the “fairness” aspect members of the Legislature touted. His analysis is 100 percent on point.
“If I transfer into a school and I’m really good, someone who has grown up in that community who may have worked hard for their chance is going to get displaced. You may have worked your tail off and someone comes in and jumps over you. That’s fair? That student has put in the work for it to be their time in the community they grew up in, but their time is going to be dictated by someone else’s wants and needs,” said Dolan.
Ferrell agreed.
“Every time somebody transfers somebody else has to sit down,” Ferrell said.
Dolan specifically talked about what would happen for someone to transfer into Bridgeport to play for the football program. He said it would interrupt what they have in place.
“Bridgeport has tradition because kids get into a system at an early age, they learn it, and become part of it,” he said. “Now, someone can skip all of that for any reason they chose. It’s just another part that isn’t fair to those who have come up to be part of that program, and Bridgeport has a lot of company when it comes to schools with programs.”
Dolan did not know, and the bill does not address, what happens if a plethora of players opt to transfer to a school pretty close to, or at, capacity. I do not think you will see 50 kids transferring to one school, but it is possible. Bridgeport High School certainly fits the mold of a school in the “pretty well filled” range and throwing a few more kids into the pile who do not live here are going to hurt things academically in already crammed classrooms.
Again, it appears that it does not matter.
Dolan was blunt on how this has the possibility of creating “super teams” in metropolitan areas and leaving their rural counterparts behind. He used Pocahontas County as an example.
“If you draw a circle around their high school featuring students available 30 minutes away, you are still getting kids only from Pocahontas County. They drive an hour to school already, so it is going to be a hard sell to get someone at a school like that, or Calhoun, or Gilmer, to get kids to transfer in with such a long drive,” said Dolan. “Draw a 30-minute circle around say Wheeling Park or a Capital and you have thousands of students that can move around fairly easily.”
As for a rural school player who is pretty dominant, do not doubt for a minute said player will not be enticed to round out a powerhouse school’s starting unit at the expense of someone perhaps not as good.
Dolan pointed to what he referred to as the “travel team” mentality. Some travel teams are coached by individuals with loyalties to certain schools, which does not mean they will recruit or take advantage of this. But some can, and some will. And if the kids want to recruit one another to come to their school or join forces, there is absolutely nothing stopping that now with the consequence of having to sit out a year removed.
“If they travel, if they play in an association in the offseason, there is nothing stopping that group from deciding to stack a team for a year or two. Trust me, you’re going to see it,” he said. “The real problem is that it won’t be every team, but it will be enough to influence our state tournaments.”
That is what it boils down to, he said. Without a state championship involved, no one would care, and no one would transfer. With people manipulating the existing system to win, he knows what is next.
“The real beauty of the state championship is how incredible it is for a community. There are always those who will do anything to win a championship, and now they have the easiest way possible,” he said. “Schools cannot turn people away whether a student has been recruited or not. If they can get there, they can go there.”
There were other parts of the bill equally troubling to Dolan. For the sake of not expanding an already lengthy blog, we will keep it at the transfer part of the legislation.
“The final product that became the bill is just more complicated than how it began; very complicated,” said Dolan.
Complicated indeed. And perhaps the end of West Virginia prep sports as we know it.
“We knew things were going on even before the bill passed, but how do we enforce this,” Ferrell questioned.
It is a good question. Perhaps the Legislature has an answer for it. I imagine the answer would be like the bill itself – it would stink.
Editor's Note: Top photo is of WVSSAC Director Bernie Dolan, while Delegate Dana Ferrell (R-Kanawha) is shown in the second photo by Perry Bennet for WV Legislative Photography. Bottom aerial photo of Wayne Jamison Field by Ben Queen Photography may host teams next year looking much different than what they are currently configured in track and football.

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