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October 17, 2016
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JP O'Hare

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State Education Department Announces Public Comment Period For Proposed Amendments To Athletic Eligibility Regulations

Changes Clarify Athletic Placement Process, Duration of Competition 

Proposed amendments to athletic eligibility regulations would provide greater clarity and ensure safe and equitable interscholastic athletic competition for public school students, the State Education Department announced today.  Proposed changes would clarify when students can request an extension for competition duration and the conditions under which some school districts may employ the Athletic Placement Process (APP) protocol to provide appropriate opportunities for exceptional student athletes in grades 7 and 8 to play at the high school level.  The proposed amendments will be made available public comment for 45-days starting on Nov. 9.

“Participation in sports is such a large part of the middle and high school experience for many students, so we need to make sure that experience is as safe and fair as possible,” said Chancellor Betty Rosa.  “Clarifying these regulations levels the playing field for all students while ensuring their safety.”

“The underlying spirit of these regulations is to provide for the safe and equal opportunity for athletic participation, and that’s not changing” said Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.  “These changes would provide clearer guidance when a seventh or eighth grader may play at the high school level and when circumstances beyond the control of a student lead to the extension of athletic eligibility to a fifth season.”

Duration of Competition

Currently, Commissioner’s regulations limit the participation of students in high school athletic competition to four consecutive seasons commencing with the student’s entry into the ninth grade and prior to graduation.  The regulation does provide that a extension request for a fifth year of eligibility may be granted if there is sufficient evidence the student’s failure to enter competition was directly caused by illness or accident, and that the illness or accident will require the student to attend school for one or more additional semesters to graduate.

However, recognizing that extenuating circumstances may exist which do not neatly fit into the categories of accident or illness, but may still be suitable for extending a student’s athletic eligibility, the regulation would be amended to allow a student who has not attained the age of 19 years prior to July 1 may be extended if sufficient evidence that the failure to enter competition was based on “other circumstances beyond the student’s control. 

The amendment also provides the Commissioner with the discretion to review a determination to grant or deny an extension of eligibility based on specific criteria.  The regulation will permit a student’s eligibility to be extended for illness, accident or other circumstances beyond the control of the pupil if evidence in the record demonstrates that:

  • as a direct result of such circumstances the pupil is required to attend school for one or more additional semesters in order to graduate;
  • the safety of the pupil or others is not at risk; and
  • that the pupil will not hold an unfair advantage in the competition. 

Athletic Placement Process

The amendment concerning the Athletic Placement Process (APP) seeks to clarify conditions for a unique group of public schools.  Generally, interscholastic athletics in grades 7 through 12 must be organized for students in like grade groups.  However, a school district may choose to allow students in grades 7 and 8 to play at the high school level, or for students in grades 9-12 to participate at the middle school level.

The APP sets the standards by which such participation is permitted.  This protocol ensures that student athletes are able to participate safely at an appropriate level of competition based upon physical and emotional readiness and athletic ability, rather than age and grade alone.

Right now, there are 13 public school districts in New York State that operate to serve students in grades K-8 only, and contract for the education of their high school students with other public school districts.  Because of their unique configuration, questions have arisen regarding the ability of students who are enrolled in K-8 public school districts to participate in the APP because they are not “enrolled” in a district with its own high school.              

The proposed amended regulation is designed to clarify the conditions under which K-8 public school districts may employ the APP protocol to allow exceptional student athletes to participate in interscholastic sports at the high school with which the K-8 school district contracts for the education of its high school students.  However, in an effort to avoid recruitment or other efforts to entice middle-school students to play for a specific high school, the regulation provides for a year of ineligibility if, following participation on a high school team pursuant to APP, the student chooses to attend a different high school with which the K-8 district contracts for the 9th grade year.

A Notice of Proposed Rule Making will be published in the State Register on Nov. 9 and public comment will be received until Dec. 27.  Following the public comment period, it is anticipated that the proposed rule will be presented for permanent adoption at the Feb. 2017 Board of Regents meeting.  If adopted at the February meeting, the proposed amendment will become effective for the next school year, commencing on July 1, 2017.  The proposed regulation can be viewed here.