Exception to Four Year Eligibility Rule Presents Interesting Questions with Rawle Alkins

July 10, 2015

Faced with the dilemma of not learning his eligibility status from the CHSAA until September 2015, Rawle Alkins announced last week that he would attend prep school instead of returning to Christ the King for his senior year.  

Questions about Alkins’ eligibility surfaced at the end of last season as a result of his playing varsity games in Florida as an eighth-grader.  At issue is the so-called “four-year eligibility rule” that limits high school athletes to four consecutive years of eligibility.  As the expression goes, every rule has its exception, and the exception to the New York State four-year eligibility rule raises some interesting questions in the Alkins case.

Section 135.4(c)(7)(ii)(b)(1) of the New York State Commissioner of Education Regulations provides that high school student athletes have four consecutive seasons of eligibility.  However, this same Section contains an exception that says that if a board of education (a school district) adopts a policy allowing seventh or eighth-graders to compete on a high school team, then student athletes get five consecutive years of eligibility (in the case of an eighth grader) or even six years of eligibility (in the case of a seventh-grader).  Section 135.4(c)(7)(ii)(a)(4) of the Commissioner’s Regulations provides that boards of education may adopt a policy allowing seventh and eighth-graders to compete on high school teams, provided that the student athletes are “placed at levels of competition appropriate to their physiological maturity, physical fitness and skills in relationship to other pupils on those teams in accordance with standards established by the Commissioner.”  Ironically, these standards, currently referred to as “selective classification,” are being revamped in the fall of 2015 with a more stringent “athletic placement process” that will eliminate waivers and require that school district determinations are made based on specific criteria.

The technical application of this exception to the Alkins situation is unclear for a couple of reasons. First, as a private organization, the CHSAA may have more stringent eligibility standards than the Commissioner’s Regulations (the CHSAA’s eligibility rules are not publicly available).  Second, since Alkins played as an eighth-grader outside of New York State, it is unclear if the Florida school district in which he played adopted a policy that would pass muster under the Commissioner’s Regulations (i.e. whether out-of-state determinations of eighth-grader status are honored for purposes of the exception).

Technicalities aside, a convincing case could be made that the exception should apply to Alkins.  Even if its eligibility rules are more stringent, the CHSAA is still a member of the New York State Federation of Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which supports the Commissioner’s Regulations.  According to the Constitution of the New York State Federation, one of its purposes is “[t]o assist in the proper interpretation, observance and improvement of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education (135.4) governing athletics so that interschool athletics are an integral part of the secondary school curriculum.”  As for the Florida school’s decision to allow Alkins to play high school ball as an eighth-grader, it would be difficult for anyone who has seen Alkins play to criticize a determination that he had the “physiological maturity, physical fitness and skills” to play high school basketball, even as an eighth-grader and even if that determination did not precisely follow the “standards established by the Commissioner.”

The logic behind the exception to New York State’s four-year eligibility rule appears to be this: If a school determines that a seventh or eighth-grader is physically mature, physically fit and skilled enough to play on a high school team, then that student should have five years of eligibility (in the case of an eighth-grader) or six years of eligibility (in the case of a seventh-grader). As a result, even though there may be interesting questions as to whether Alkins’ eligibility is technically within the letter of the rules, it certainly appears to be within the spirit of them.

Considering the above, the most interesting question about the Alkins situation may be why nobody is talking about the exception to the four-year eligibility rule.  Maybe they should be.  It may be too late, but perhaps this would cause the CHSAA eligibility committee to take a closer look at this before September.





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