Athletic transfers and illegal recruiting are under the microscope in Alabama, where the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has created an investigations team to address these issues statewide.
Already at work, the AHSAA Investigations Team’s primary responsibility is to probe illegal recruiting and vetting transfers, according to AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese. Savarese said that the AHSAA Central Board authorized the Investigations Team in January after being proposed during the governing body’s most recent strategic plan.
“The formation of the investigations team demonstrates the Central Board’s commitment to upholding not only the mission of the AHSAA, but its constitution and bylaws,” Savarese said. “They’re making an investment towards fair play.”
At the AHSAA’s annual August media briefing, Savarese revealed that the team, led by a retired school administrator, will feature an investigative journalist, a private investigator, a former Attorney General’s office investigator and a retired investigator for the Alabama State Troopers.
“During our evaluation, and in the formation of the AHSAA Investigations Team, our primary focus with this group is to analyze and access all transfer data,” Savarese said. “Right now, our investigative team is out analyzing all of our schools, getting transfer data. We will then take that data, look for trends, and then possibly further look into that information.”
Savarese noted during the media briefing that each high school “takes an oath” to follow the AHSAA’s rules. With recruiting and transfer issues on the rise, winning seems more important to some than education, according to Savarese.
“Today, families are much more transient; communication happens at the hit of a keystroke. With opportunities for families to evaluate other schools much easier than they used to, we support those parents, as long as they work under the confines of our rules,” Savarese said. “Sometimes in our world today, winning becomes more important than educational athletics. This group is there to uphold the mission of our association, which is educational athletics and fair play.”
The AHSAA Investigations Team is derived from similar practices conducted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). Upon learning of the program from WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese, Savarese said the AHSAA began taking the necessary steps to adopt its own group.
The California Interscholastic Federation also assists its 10 sections in investigations. Nearly 16,000 student-athletes transferred schools in 2015-16, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“If you look at the root issue, it’s commonly caused by a child transferring outside of the guidelines of the AHSAA handbook,” Savarese said. “There’s always an issue of someone gaining an advantage over someone or having the opportunity to have a student-athlete participating at their school without meeting the same requirements of another student-athlete.”
Currently in its data collection phase, Savarese said once all data is gathered – with cooperation from the schools involved – the investigations team will assess the data, and, on a case-by-case basis, have schools review any inconsistencies found.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.