The new "sit-out rule," which would take effect July 1 and be revisited after one year, will allow student-athletes to transfer to another school and be eligible to play without changing residence after sitting out the first 30 to 35 days of the season, instead of the current one year.
Athletes who transfer without moving would become eligible on Oct. 1 for fall sports, Dec. 31 for winter sports and April 1 for spring sports.
Under the current CIF rules, a student must qualify for a hardship waiver to play sports at another school upon transferring, unless there is a valid change of residence.
Many coaches, athletic directors and school administrators fear that new rule will open even wider the doors for so-called "free agency." So when the CIF Southern Section Council voted to endorse the transfer rule revision last week, it passed only 41-40.
Yet those arguing for parental rights believe their children should have the freedom to move to another school even if it's to play for a more successful program or to improve athletic scholarship chances, especially at a time when college costs continue to soar, despite the CIF rules against athletically motivated transfers.
"This is a better rule for everybody," says Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner Pete Saco, who proposed the new rule. "Everyone is going to be treated the same, and it removes all subjectivity to what a hardship is.
"I know some are worried that it's going to lead to more transfers. But we still have the rules in place for undue influence."
The CIF's legal bills have soared, as its eligibility rules have been challenged in court.
Most prominent has been the Roman Catholic Diocese's lawsuit on behalf of athletic powerhouse Mater Dei of Santa Ana, alleging that the Southern Section has applied eligibility rules "unfairly and inconsistently."
In the past three years, the CIF has spent $2.8 million in legal fees and liability insurance. Retiring CIF executive director Marie Ishida also noted that the number of transfers from 2007-08 to 2010-2011 had jumped by 38 percent and that the CIF appeals panel heard 125 hardship cases during the 2010-2011 school year.
"We spend an inordinate amount of time looking at paperwork, and I'm always cutting deals to try to avoid going to court," said Saco, who has handled more than 1,000 transfer requests and 20 hardship cases this school year.
Saco's so-called "30-day rule", used by the section in 2006-07 but then usurped by the CIF's statewide policy, was viewed as a compromise between the hardliners on both sides.
Section officials believed that forcing an athlete to sit out a portion of the season - up to four to five games in football - would be enough deterrent to prevent mass transferring for athletic reasons.
The rule was well received by many Sac-Joaquin Section coaches and athletic directors, although some parents complained that it still was too punitive. It did, however, significantly reduce the amount of time and money the section spent on transfer issues.
Saco went from dealing with dozens of hardship cases each year to dealing with none.
Bee file photo by Randy Pench: Pete Saco, Sac-Joaquin Section Commissioner in his CIF office in Galt Wednesday, December 13, 2006.