Patterson’s Perspective: What is prior contact according the AIA?

By Lee Patterson

I’ve been in the High School sports scene for nearly 19 seasons now. I’ve never taken a deeper look at the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s (AIA) prior contact rule. I really haven’t had a reason to. Athletic transfers are fairly rare in the Gila Valley. As a matter of fact, I can only think of maybe 5 in my whole career here. That is, until this season when the much talked about transfer of Collin Thompson from Safford to Thatcher.

If you know about this situation you probably have already picked a side who you think is right, which is great. It’s what we do in today’s social media world. That isn’t the reason for this column. I want to bring to light how easy it is to be in violation of the rule that AIA has put into place to skirt the perceived rampant recruiting that is taking place in the high school football landscape.

In today’s AIA, anytime you transfer, you are automatically out for 50 percent of each sport you played at your previous school – no questions asked. You have to prove to the AIA that your transfer was a hardship in order for them to give you back your full season. If prior contact is suspected you lose your whole season.

We call it prior contact. The AIA calls it rule Read it for yourself:

This provision applies to transfers to a school with which a non-school team or camp/clinic (e.g. AAU, American Legion, club team, or other non-school teams, camps/clinics) is affiliated or with which an instructor is affiliated.

Despite compliance with the other provisions of AIA Bylaws, a student who attends, participates or was eligible to participate for a school, and then transfers to another school is ineligible for one calendar year under any of the following circumstances:

The student transfers from a public (district & charter), or private school within one calendar year after:
Receiving direct athletic or activities instruction from a person affiliated with the school to which the student transfers.

The student transfers from a home school within one calendar year after:
Receiving direct athletic or activities instruction from a person affiliated with the school to which the student transfers.

Now that you have read the rule a couple of times, let’s translate it out of lawyer speak and into English.

If you have any instruction from a coach at the school you transfer to, it is prior contact. For example if you play soccer at School A and also play AYSO soccer for a coach that coaches at School B, then you transfer to School B… Bam! Prior Contact and you are unable to play soccer for 1 year.  But wait, playing for the other coach isn’t the violation, transferring is the actual violation. If you played for Coach B and never transferred to their school, no violation.

In the Thompson case, the football violation was lifting in the Thatcher weight room. This was originally perceived as prior contact. Thatcher appealed that decision to the AIA governing board citing that there was no direct instruction from the coaching staff. According to Thatcher Athletic Director Don Conrad, it was an open lift where members from the community and even other players from Safford would lift on their own. Since the other Safford players didn’t transfer, there was no violation for them. The Board agreed and reinstated Thompson for the remainder of football season.

Basketball season is another story. That violation is very cut and dry. Thompson played on a club basketball team coached by the Thatcher Booster Club President. Then transferred to Thatcher. Direct Violation of Rule and a 1 year suspension from basketball.

This rule was originally written towards Metro area schools and club/AAU teams. It is now trying to be placed into rural situations, like this one. It is almost impossible to not have prior contact with a person from another school in the Gila Valley. If you are involved with athletics, you probably coach a summer or off-season team, and are in prior contact with other athletes. Be careful though, because as it stands now, you are guilty of prior contact, if an athlete transfers.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with the AIA’s rule because they really don’t care. It is in their bylaws and constitution and will be enforced if you violate it. I hope now with a small glimpse into the wording you can understand why it was such a process in this case.