It’s never wise to open Pandora’s box.
Wednesday gave us no better illustration in high school sports in this state through the Nebraska School Activities Association’s rejecting two appeals.
The state’s governing body kept the box shut on the longstanding age rule, turning down a request by a North Platte family to grant athletic eligibility to their adopted twin sons whose 19th birthday last summer came a week before the Aug. 1 cutoff.
The NSAA board also upheld the ruling of Executive Director Jim Tenopir that a transfer of a student from Millard West to Omaha Burke during the school year did not meet eligibility rules. The boy moved in with a relative in Burke’s attendance zone without the rest of his family also moving there.
Pandora’s box of transfers has been left open for years, back to the 1910s and 1920s when small-town kids would show up at city schools. It got legislative teeth in Omaha with desegregation in the 1970s and statewide when the Nebraska Legislature in the 1980s approved open enrollment — for academic reasons only.
You can’t fill a high school gym with the number of kids since then who have changed schools for academic reasons. But you can fill a lot of seats at Memorial Stadium with athletic transfers.
Part of the problem lies with the NSAA membership sticking with a 90-school-day sit-out rule for eligibility for students who transfer without their family moving by May 1. If the transfer comes during the summer, the 90 days fully affects the fall-sports athlete, partially hits the winter-sports kids and doesn’t touch those in spring sports. Is that equitable?
It’s time for a 180-day sit-out and time for the NSAA to study other places using similar policies that have been court-tested. Like Washington state, where a family has to live in a school attendance zone for 180 days for a student to be eligible for athletics. That’s the rule that presumably has sidelined two-time All-Nebraska player Ed Chang since he relocated from Papillion-La Vista to Seattle last year without his family.
As for the North Platte case, the NSAA ruling preserves a rule enacted in 1952. Over the years the age limit was lowered in 1927 to bar 20-year-olds and in 1952 updated to let 19-year-olds compete if their birthday was after a cutoff date. Sidebar: A school was ordered in 1933 to forfeit games when it was found a student voted in the 1932 election ; the voting age then was 21.
Burke’s forfeits upset the true pecking order in Class A, which has its district seedings set next week based on all regular-season games.
The Bulldogs were 16-7 and fifth in the point standings before the forfeits drop them to 11-12 and 16th. Unless Burke wins Friday night at Omaha Bryan, each of its opponents loses three points because Burke’s record is under .500. The teams gaining the forfeits — Omaha Central (getting two losses reversed), Omaha North, Omaha South and Bellevue East — will get eight points for each win, 11 should Burke win.
Entering Thursday’s games, Central, Omaha Creighton Prep, Lincoln East, Omaha Bryan, Kearney, Bellevue West and Millard South control their fate as top-seven seeds. Those have home-court advantage in both rounds of the district playoffs.
Burke would be in Prep’s district and, yes, play Millard West in the first round. Fate does have its warped side.