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Jim Rayburn: Recent transfer ruling sets precedents

Prior to the Utah High School Activities Association ruling on the Scott LeFrandt transfer, coaches around the valley were already expressing concern — and not just the football coaches.

"If they let that kid play football for American Fork, every coach in the state should quit," a non-football coach told me.

I'm sure some didn't expect the LeFrandt case to stir up the reaction and emotions that it has.

Almost every coach in the state, and a good share of the fans, parents and players have strong opinions about the UHSAA's decision to allow LeFrandt to transfer from Lone Peak to American Fork midseason to play football for the Cavemen.

The ruling, whether some like it or not or whether that was the intention of the LeFrandt family, was precedent setting in more ways than one. Coaches, parents and players, at least as long as they have the current transfer rules, will now base many of their off-the-field decisions on this case and this ruling.

And whether the UHSAA likes it or not, or even agrees, the ruling has opened a whole new can of worms when it comes to transfer issues.

I have my own opinions on the right or wrong of the ruling, but for the purposes of this column, I'm not going to debate them because I'm not looking to stir up that pot any further.

What I am going to do, however, is point out what I am hearing from those involved in high school sports on what the ruling's fallout will be. Remember, these are the ones who will be selecting teams, deciding who plays and who doesn't, and what kind of philosophy they want their school's athletic program to follow.

Honestly, some of the effects will be viewed by some as bad and by others as good and necessary. But the truth is, high school sports in Utah might not ever be the same. To some, that's good. To others, it's not.

The reaction from coaches has not been as strong as the coach who suggested they should all quit in protest, and I'm not even aware of any organized effort to protest. But I also haven't heard from one coach who favors the ruling. Every coach I've spoken with feels the ruling undermines coaching and takes away some of their authority and power.

And this is how most say they are going to respond to it. Any athlete, in any sport, who displays any tendency to be disruptive or disobedient in tryouts, practices or games is going to be shown the door in a hurry. Character will be weighed just as heavily, if not more, than skill when it comes to selecting teams.

The minute an athlete starts to mouth off and stir things up, or puts herself or himself before the team, the coach is probably no longer going to give that athlete the benefit of the doubt. No more second chances. Coaches won't allow themselves to get into a position where an athlete can push their button.

Coaches now feel they will need to kick kids off their teams before the kids can quit and claim bad treatment. Not that it happened in this case, but coaches will now be weary of athletes trying to instigate a confrontation to give them supported reason to transfer.

On the other hand, athletes should realize that coaches are now probably going to be less tolerant of disrespect. So if they don't plan on being a team player and being obedient to coaching, they should chose an extracurricular activity other than athletics — an activity in which they can do their own thing their own way.

Over the past decade, the kind of talk and contact between coaches and players that is deemed appropriate has changed significantly. This ruling changes it even further.

One message this ruling sends quite clearly is that coaches cannot grab or touch athletes in any way for whatever reason.

If I was a coach, and most are sure to start thinking this way, I would have absolutely no contact at all with one of my players. I'm talking no high fives, no pats on the butt, helmet or back, and not even a hug in celebration. A smile or look of disapproval will now have to do.

Coaches, who think a player has crossed the line, must show great restraint to ensure that they don't.

I see the ruling also presenting another transfer dilemma for the UHSAA. I believe some athletes (or their parents) will start making claims of anticipated abuse before a confrontation even occurs. If they see the potential for a conflict arising out of personality and philosophy differences between coach and player, they'll see that as a valid reason to go elsewhere.

The UHSAA might now find itself in the position of having to define what is abuse and what is not. And we've certainly seen from the LeFrandt case, that everyone has a different definition of what is and what is not justifiable and abusive.