It's no deep, dark secret in high school sports that the Arizona Interscholastic Association's domicile-residence rules are often broken.
And those infractions have often involved some Payson High School student athletes.
But the ease with which the domicile rules are broken might soon come to an end.
That's because the AIA has joined forces with several other state prep associations in trying to firm up enforcement of the rules by hiring private firms to investigate alleged infractions of student-athlete domicile requirements.
Until the AIA legislative council approved hiring private investigators last month, the enforcement model was self-policing.
Although the AIA legislative council has many wrinkles to iron out in the new policy, it could be similar to the one the NCAA uses in which the association can investigate schools and their sports.
In the past, if there were questions about whether a high school student-athlete was living within school district boundaries with his parents or guardians, as AIA domicile rules mandate, it was up to the school to investigate.
System built on honor and trust
In other words, the system was built on honor and trust.
But if the new model becomes a reality, a private firm could be used to investigate whether or not student-athletes meet domicile statues.
Around the state, there are tales of athletes jumping from one school to another for a variety of reasons, usually centering on the sports they play.
Not many years ago, a football player at a small Arizona high school had a tiff with his coach.
Disgruntled with the situation, he withdrew from the school and re-enrolled at a rival school just miles away.
To meet the domicile requirements, he and his parents moved a fifth wheel vacation home into the back yard of a home where one of his new teammates lived.
The school investigated and apparently ruled that the fifth wheel, although the boy's parents didn't live there, met the AIA domicile requirements.
If a private investigator had taken the case, the ruling probably wouldn't have been the same because AIA rules say the athlete must be living in "his/her true, fixed and permanent home."
At Payson High School in the past decade, there have been at least three athletes who have transferred to other schools, possibly violating AIA requirements.
However, there have been occasions when the AIA's self-policing rule has worked.
The most infamous incident in the Rim Country occurred in the 2006-2007 school year when PHS administrators reported basketball star Rhea Cosay was not a legal resident of the Payson School District.
Cosay was deemed ineligible because PHS administrators had not filed proper hardship guardianship papers for the Alchesay transfer.
With the ruling, the Lady Longhorn basketball team -- which won the East region tournament championship -- was booted from the Class 3A state tournament.
Although a group of parents filed an appeal to reinstate the team into the postseason, Gila County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Cahill ruled in AIA's favor and the team was forced to forfeit all the games Cosay had played in.
The AIA's domicile rule seems clear cut.
It is: Domicile Requirements -- Except as otherwise stated in Article 15, a student, whether an adult or not, is privileged with eligibility for interscholastic competition only at the school in the district in which his/her parents are domiciled.
Also, a domicile is defined as:
Except as otherwise stated in Article 15, a domicile is a place where a person has his/her true, fixed and permanent home, and to which, whenever absent, he or she has the intention of returning. A student shall have only one domicile for the purposes of these eligibility rules.
Change of Domicile -- This is dependent upon the facts in each case, but, as a minimum, to be considered a change of domicile under these rules, the following facts must exist:
The original domicile must be or is in the process of being abandoned; that is sold, rented, or otherwise disposed of, and must not be used as a residence by either parent or any child in the 12th grade or younger, and take with them the household goods and furnishings appropriate to the circumstances.