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COLUMN: Transfer woes a result of flawed system

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By John Herndon

I don't believe I have seen many things associated with high school sports more bizarre than the case of Dakotah Euton.

In case you have been exiled to the outer limits of the Yukon Territory and missed it, Euton is a wonderful basketball player who suited up for Rose Hill Christian in Ashland the last two years. The junior-to-be is listed at 6-foot-8 and can score inside or step out and swish the 3-bomb. He's good enough that a ton of college recruiters were on his trail all year but he decided to forego any of the recruiting perks to cast his lot with a verbal commitment to Kentucky, starting with the 2010-11 season.

If only it had stayed that simple.

Shortly after Rose Hill was eliminated in the 16th Region tournament in March, Euton announced he was transferring from Rose Hill to Scott County more than 100 miles away. It was also announced that his big-time teammate, Chad Jackson, would also be moving to Georgetown. Last month, however, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association ruled that Euton and Jackson were ineligible to play at Scott County. Their appeals were heard last week, but, as of this writing, the KHSAA had not released the findings.

The reason for Euton's transfer sounds simple enough on the surface. Reportedly, his father lost his job in the Ashland area, then found a new one in Lexington. He moved, or planned to move to Georgetown, about a 3-point shot from Lexington. Nothing wrong with that per se.

However, Euton's dad went public, letting most of the known world know that his son was going to Scott County because of the Cardinals' high-octane and high-profile basketball program. That runs afoul of By-law 6 found in the KHSAA handbook.

The rule states that transfers will be ineligible at the new school for one year, but the commissioner has the discretion to waive that rule under certain circumstances, with a bona fide change of address being one of them. However, the rule also says the waiver shall not be granted "if the change is motivated in whole or part by a desire to participate in athletics at the new school."

Therein lies the problem.

If anyone who has a high profile son or daughter goes on the record of saying "I want my child to go to this school because of a great college prep math program," chances are, that child would be eligible.

And chances also are that they would be lying.

I don't know the particulars of the Euton-Jackson saga. It has had far too many twists and turns to keep up with.

But here is what I do know: Transfers have always been a major part of the high school game and are becoming more and more influential each year.

They really are nothing new. Thirty years ago, Shelby County won the state basketball tournament. The Rockets already were good, but seemed to pick up the missing piece when Mike George moved to town. His dad was the minister at a church in Shelbyville.

When Anderson County went to the Sweet 16 in 1997, one of Warren East's weapons was a darting guard named Jeremy Britt. He later wound up at Danville, where he became one of the state's best running backs.

But transfers are becoming a bigger story every year.

At this year's Sweet 16, one of the hot rumors was that one of Jefferson County's top seniors would be transferring to an Eighth Region school. There apparently was something to the rumor but the young man has apparently decided to stay where he was.

From this corner, there are many mixed emotions.

On the one hand, those that champion a strict interpretation of the one-year rule have a valid point in saying that it would cut out a lot of the player-shopping and formation of super-teams at a few schools.

They are also correct when they note that playing sports is a privilege, not a right.

Part of me says this is the way to go. If playing sports is merely a privilege, then someone must abide by those rules and if one can't play for a year, so be it.

But to have such a hardline stance ignores the fact that we do live in America, which is supposed to be a bastion of freedom.

After all, who are we to tell someone where he can live?

Furthermore, I firmly believe that most transfers are legit. Anderson County, for example, had a handful during the 2007-08 school year. All were ruled ineligible at first, because of By-law 6, but all were reinstated on appeal. I just have a hard time saying that a kid cannot play sports because one or both of his parents can better themselves by moving. I have a hard time saying that a kid who goes to live with relatives because his parents die, or a kid rocked by divorce, cannot play sports.

What it boils down to is that the questionable cases get most of the ink, but those few can penalize the many innocent ones just wanting to participate.

The problem lies with the system.

Because of the intense - and often misguided - emphasis on recruiting, we have created a system where players want to play for well-known coaches simply to enhance their marketability or be better prepared for the college game. In America, that is certainly one's right, but somewhere along the line, it just seems out of line with the purpose of sports at the scholastic level.

Let it also be said that while it would be foolish to say that recruiting does not go on at the high school level, it is probably not as wide-spread as it is made out to be.

But shopping a player, or a parent looking for a move that supposedly benefits his child athletically has also become rampant over the last 20 years or so. The practice of open enrollment, or the ability of a kid to attend any high school in a certain county, only fuels the shopping.

We have created a system in which people seem to be more interested in where a player is going to college than about the game itself. It seems that we have a system that a player's worth is measured by where he goes to college.

So, what is the answer?

I wish I knew. There are valid arguments on both sides of the Euton-Jackson case and chances are that few will ever know all of the facts in the story. Officials from the KHSAA and its member schools have to come up with some sort of compromise or realistic rules to deal with such cases now and in the future.

And as fans and parents, and yes, the press, we all need to examine ourselves to see how we have all contributed to a flawed system.

Then, and only then, can it be changed.