The uproar over a new rule revoking full athletic eligibility from students after high school transfers got louder Tuesday when Gov. Tim Pawlenty weighed in against the change.
Pawlenty's concerns could add more steam to a legislative effort to overrule the Minnesota High School League's transfer rule, which is due to take effect in the fall.
Last week, the league's assembly voted unanimously to require students who transfer schools without changing their home address to sit out of varsity athletic competition for one year. The goal was to curb the type of recruiting more commonly associated with collegiate sports.
The Republican governor told reporters that he worries the rule will impede Minnesota's tradition of school choice through a long-standing open-enrollment law.
“If we're going to err on one side or the other we should err on the side of flexibility, mobility and choice.”Gov. Tim Pawlenty
"A lot of kids who are academically interested or motivated to move schools or school districts also happen to be in extracurricular activities," Pawlenty said. "You don't want to punish them."
He continued, "If we're going to err on one side or the other we should err on the side of flexibility, mobility and choice and not holding kids in their home district if they don't want to be there."
Pawlenty didn't endorse any specific action. But he said the state has the power to review the league's decision despite its standing as a nonprofit entity. He said the fact school districts get funded by and are governed by the state gives lawmakers authority to step in.
"We don't have to necessarily just do what they say," he said of the league.
On Monday, a House subcommittee voted in favor of a bill that trumps the new eligibility rule. A similar measure failed earlier this year in a Senate committee, but it could resurface as an amendment to other education bills.
Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Pawlenty's comments should give her proposal new life. She said she's upset the league is restricting athlete playing time to get at a problem caused by coaches and parents who are trying to build elite teams through open enrollment.
Dave Stead, the body's executive director, didn't immediately return a phone message.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Chuck Wiger, DFL-North St. Paul, opposes the legislative involvement in the issue. He said the league's decision is well-grounded and would correct abuses in the system.
"The idea of stacking a team for competitive advantage is not fair," Wiger said. "The High School League realized it is an issue that needs to be addressed."
Currently, students can transfer once with no penalty. If they switch schools again without changing addresses, they must sit out half their varsity season.
Nearly 500 schools are members of the league, which governs athletics and fine arts competitions for more than 200,000 high school students statewide each year.
The league's revenue comes from state tournament ticket sales, broadcast rights, corporate partnerships and the sale of tournament merchandise.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)