Coaches, Arizona Interscholastic Association officials and school administrators were sweating bullets last Thursday when the Arizona Senate heard a bill that would have snuffed out a year-old rule restricting student-athlete's transfers between schools.
Much to the relief of many concerned, the Senate killed the bill 14-2 only one week after it had received a 6-2 approval from the Senate education committee.
In approving the bill, the education committee said it protected the open enrollment rights of students-athletes.
In the Senate voting, three Republicans and 11 of 12 voting Democrats KO'ed the bill.
At the center of the controversy is a transfer rule that was put in place last year by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
The new rule had the support of many in the teaching and coaching profession who clamored that it was long overdue.
The new rule gave athletes the eligibility to play at any school they wished as freshmen.
But after their freshman year, athletes must sit out a full year of competition if they transferred without "hardship" or a family move to another school district.
"Hardships" were dubbed for "unforeseeable, unfavorable and uncorrectable" situations. During the past year, the AIA heard more than 100 such cases and granted about half of them.
The new stricter rule replaced a principal waiver form that allowed almost at-will flip-flops between school districts.
For fear of a lawsuit, many high school principals signed the waiver forms at will. Some in coaching circles deemed the principal waiver forms strikingly similar to professional sport's free agent system in which athletes can take their services to the highest bidder.
During the years the waiver form was in place, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Which means, the most successful teams often attracted the best athletes from struggling schools.
One of those opposed to the old waiver form was former Payson High School football coach Jim Beall. His contention, and that of most other coaches, is that a student should remain in his school district, and loyal to his team, for as long as parents or guardians reside there.
The transfer situation was never a huge problem in Payson, where only a handful of athletes have bid PHS adieu to play at other schools.
But in Phoenix and Tucson, transfers ran rampant as athletes jumped from school to school searching for just the right fit.
Those transfers also created a huge division in the coaching ranks. Some coaches cried "recruiting" fouls as they watched star players bolt for greener pastures.
By rejecting the bill that would have stripped the AIA of some of its power, the Senate has drawn praise from school officials around the state.
But one question remains for those of us who live in small-town Arizona.
How could a star Show Low football player leave his team after the start of last season and immediately begin playing on a Blue Ridge team that went on to win the state championship?
The new AIA mandates were in effect when the transfer from Show Low to Blue Ridge was made.
Shouldn't he have stayed out a year as the new rule states?
In leaving Show Low, after a tiff with the coach, the athlete is said to have moved into a fifth-wheel trailer behind a Blue Ridge player's Lakeside/Pinetop home.
If that's not an infraction of the spirit of the new transfer rule, what is?
Show Low School officials, including the coach, complained loudly about the transfer. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. The former Cougar star went on to play a pivotal role as a running back in the Yellow Jackets' march to the 2000 3A state football crown.
The new AIA transfer rule is a good one if it's enforced.