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Will Tucson be a landing spot for displaced California high school football players? It's a simple question with a complex answer
High school football

Will Tucson be a landing spot for displaced California high school football players? It's a simple question with a complex answer

Salpointe vs Canyon del Oro football

Arizona high schools and the AIA have been contacted by parents of California athletes about transferring.

Arizona could serve as a landing spot for California high school football players who are looking to improve their recruitment and earn college scholarships, meaning Phoenix and Tucson could see an influx of out-of-state transfers starting this fall.

Salpointe Catholic and other high schools statewide have heard from parents of California athletes about transferring because of the coronavirus. Arizona is reopening faster than California, leading some to speculate that high school football is more likely to be played here starting in August.

Arizona Interscholastic Association assistant executive director Joe Paddock, a longtime coach and administrator in the Amphitheater School District, said the AIA has been contacted by “a couple of different schools with the inquiry: If a student were to transfer from California, what would happen?”

The answer: It depends.

Athletes who move to Arizona alone — to live with a friend or family member, for example — would have to sit out at least half of their games at their new schools, according to AIA rules. Families who relocate together to the state would be able to appeal to the AIA, which would then rule on how many games the athlete would have to miss.

“It’s possible that they would have more eligibility than a student who’s moving to the state by himself or herself,” Paddock said.

California superintendent of instruction Tony Thurmond said Wednesday that most public school districts in the state plan to reopen in August or September. According to the Los Angeles Times, the “new normal” would likely include masks and smaller class sizes to maintain social distancing.

It’s unclear whether high school football games would still be in play. If they’re not, some California players — and their parents — could look to leave the state. Numerous parents of football recruits told that they would move out of state if fall sports were called off.

Nearby Arizona and Nevada would be logical destinations. But any move would come with complications for both the athletes and their new schools.

The AIA prohibits schools from recruiting athletes, and has rules that discourage athletes transferring to schools specifically to play sports. Those rules remain in place when it comes to dealing with out-of-state students, Paddock said. Arizona athletes, parents and coaches who encourage Californians to enroll at their schools would be in violation of AIA rules, Paddock said.

“If that were the case, that’s called recruitment and the school would have major violations,” he said. “If the student were to attend that school, they would not have any eligibility, because they’ve been recruited by that school.”

Things appear to be trending up in California. The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers reopened their training facilities last weekend with limited-contact rules. And California Gov. Gavin Newsom said pro sports could return as soon as June, provided games are played in empty stadiums or arenas.

Will California’s cautious reintroduction of sporting events trickle down to high schools in time for the football season?

Paddock cautioned against trying to predict the future. As he noted, Arizona high schools aren’t guaranteed to have sports in the fall, either.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in California or any other state,” Paddock said. “Shoot, we’re not exactly sure what’s happening here in Arizona.

“People who might be planning to come to Arizona could be very disappointed if for some reason our schools aren’t able to have football as well. There are just way too many question marks and unknowns right now.”

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Justin writes stories and produces digital content about UA football and basketball and high school football. A Tucson native, Justin graduated from the UA in 2017 and is the host of the Wildcast Podcast and a radio host on ESPN Tucson.

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