CIF eligibility rule leads to unintended consequences

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CIF eligibility rule leads to unintended consequences

Ashley Fu (‘20), a fifth year senior, looks at the CIF website.

Ashley Fu (‘20), a fifth year senior, looks at the CIF website.

Sunny Yu

Ashley Fu (‘20), a fifth year senior, looks at the CIF website.

Sunny Yu

Sunny Yu

Ashley Fu (‘20), a fifth year senior, looks at the CIF website.

As the fall season comes to an end, many seniors must bid farewell to their beloved sports and teams. It is not surprising to find them in tears, saying goodbye to their athletic career; however, for some juniors, the season marks the end of their high school sports journey as well.

Why do some Webb students have one less year of eligibility to compete on a sports team? It is because their eligibility to play a sport their senior year is limited by the California Interscholastic Federation.

According to the CIF eligibility rule, “A student who first enters the ninth grade of any school following the student’s completion of the eighth grade in any school may be eligible for athletic competition during a maximum period of time that is not to exceed eight consecutive semesters following the initial enrollment in the ninth grade of any school. Said eligibility must be used during the student’s first eight consecutive semesters of enrollment at that school or any other school.”

Many students confuse the rule with the age rule, which is actually less limiting of eligibility. 

According to the age rule, “No student whose nineteenth (19) birthday is attained prior to June 15 of the prior school year shall participate or practice on any CIF team.” 

However, the age rule does not affect  Webb athletes as much as the fifth year senior rule. The rule requires that students only have four years of eligibility to compete at a high school level, and the eligibility starts once students start 9th grade anywhere in the world. Under such a rule, any student who transfers to Webb and repeats their freshman year will not be eligible to play sports their senior year.

The rule is supposed to ensure fairness in high school athletic competitions and prevent prospective college athletes from repeating grades for better athletic performances. While the rule has good intentions, it directly affects Webb athletes who are transfer students or repeat ninth graders.

Steve Wishek, Director of Athletics, said, “The goal of the rule was to avoid redshirting. Without the rule, students with five years of eligibility may choose to repeat their senior year for athletics reasons, instead of academic ones.”

Although the CIF law makers did not mean to restrict international students or transfer students from playing another year of sports, their actions had unintended consequences: many Webb students are not able to play sports their senior year.

Mr. Wishek said, “I do not think when they made that rule, they were thinking about limiting international students in general, which is what that rule at Webb disproportionately affects. Whether you have played sports or not before coming to Webb, the clock starts once you start 9th grade.”

Many fifth year seniors express their frustration of not being able to play on the team their last year at Webb. 

Denis Khonenev (‘20), a soccer player who feels his eligibility was unfairly taken away, said, “I know about the rule because I myself am a fifth year senior. I am not allowed to play because I transferred from an international school. I am the same age as anyone else on the field, but I just cannot play… I think the rule is unfair.”

Ashley Fu (‘20) said, “I am pretty sad because I have been on the tennis team for the past three years, and I really liked being on the team. I [was] very sad when I knew I cannot compete both leagues and non-league games because I really enjoy playing games with my teammates.”

Denis and Ashley are both greatly affected by the eligibility rule, as it disproportionately targets Webb students. Although there is rationale behind the rule, the application of it at Webb – a school with many international and transfer students – seems unfair. 

Now, Denis can only practice half of the time and manage the other half, although his favorite part of soccer is the actual game, where he can support his teammates on the field.

He said, “The rule is not fair. It should only be fair for people who are actually older than their peers, but if the person is the same age, then I do not see the point of the rule.”

Ashley believes that not only is the rule unfair for younger athletes, but also is it unfair for people who are older.

Ashley said, “I do not think being a year older or transferring from 9th grade would make us more athletic. I do not think age would make me better than anyone else. For JV tennis, especially, I do not think the rule makes sense.”

The rule applies to every school in California, whether it is a public or private school. It is extremely hard to make changes.

Mr. Wishek said, “In order to get the rule change passed, we have to change it at a state level, and we need to get all 1,400 high schools in California to agree on the change, which is impossible. The number of schools that are like Webb is very small. If you get to make the rules, it would make more sense to make a different rule at Webb… The Webb athletics are important parts of our programs, and we would love to see everyone participate. The athletics are valuable parts of students’ education, and I know that the rule takes them away for many students. It is frustrating.”

Sydney Wang (‘20), another fifth year senior, said, “It is a fair rule, but international students coming from a three-year middle school system should be excluded from the rule.”

Ashley said, “Without the concerns of preventing college athletes from dropping down or repeating grades, I think all of us students at Webb would love to abolish the rule since we just love playing sports and being a part of the teams.”

Brian Caldwell, coach of the WSC cross country team, said, “I think the rule would not be fair for students who are the same age as their peers or for students who do not play the sport as much. I feel bad for the fifth year seniors.”

However, as the rule stands, we can only make the best out of it. Many athletes are still on the teams, but only with different roles.

Mr. Caldwell said, “Every year on the cross country team, there are two or three kids in the situation. I try to make them think about why they want to be on cross country. Even if they cannot run in meets, I still encourage them to do the workouts. The only part they miss out is the competition part.”

It is always hard to balance the needs of different groups of people; when it comes to the CIF eligibility rule, the committee that made the fifth year senior rule to ensure fairness for college athletes unintentionally harmed the high school experiences of some seniors who would love to play sports. In the future of making rules, it is important that people take all potential outcomes into account as they attempt to make the right decision.