Unrestricted free agency in Winnipeg high school varsity sports is soon to be history.
Student athletes who've already played a varsity sport in Grade 10 will no longer be able, as of September 2015, to change schools without sitting out for a year.
The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association has finally approved its long-awaited "red shirt" rule, effective for the 2015-2016 school year.
"School sports is playing for your school, playing with your friends, it's not free agency," MHSAA executive director Morris Glimcher said Wednesday. "The problem is getting worse, it's getting out of hand."
Glimcher said the red-shirt rule passed 40-13 at the MHSAA's annual general meeting in Gimli this week.
The problems are largely confined to the so-called big four of volleyball, basketball, football and hockey, he said. There were six students from the province's largest high schools who had changed schools at the provincial volleyball championships this year.
It's prevalent throughout the major sports at the biggest schools, in both boys' and girls' varsity athletics.
"There are cases in which a student went to one school in Grade 10, another school in Grade 11 and another school in Grade 12, and it was to win a championship," Glimcher said.
"There's enough that transfer to change the competitive balance. We're the only province that doesn't have a transfer rule; most states have a transfer rule," Glimcher said.
If students want to cherry-pick to seek a title, they're free to do so in club sports, which have no geographical boundaries in many cases, he said.
Glimcher said the MHSAA established Grade 10 as the key year because there are high schools with grades 9 to 12 and some with grades 10 to 12. Once a student has made a varsity team in Grade 10, he or she cannot play that sport at another high school in later grades without giving up a year of eligibility.
There will be an appeal process, Glimcher said, but "People will have to be able to justify why they're moving."
The MHSAA would allow varsity athletes to switch schools and play if their families could make a case the family had moved into the new school's catchment area, if the family had split and the student went to a new home with one parent, or if Child and Family Services was involved with the move. They could make a case the student switched to obtain a specific academic program or because bullying was involved.
Education Minister James Allum could not be reached Wednesday.
Glimcher said MHSAA has met Allum informally and the minister did not make a commitment, but Glimcher said Department of Education officials have told the association the province's schools of choice policy "wasn't intended for athletics."
The province's schools of choice policy allows students to move to schools outside their catchment area, or in another division, to access a school program without financial penalty, as long as the receiving school's principal agrees there is a classroom in the school to accommodate the student.
Glimcher said the MHSAA will work out its appeals process over the next school year.
Glimcher said most instances are at the AAAA level, which is the tier for the largest high schools in Manitoba.
The MHSAA says top student-athletes who leave their local school not only make that school less competitive, but they take the spot of a neighbourhood resident at the school to which they move.
Living with an aunt while switching schools just to chase a championship wouldn't cut it, said Glimcher.
Does a no-transfer policy penalize gifted athletes? Or does it promote the concept of school sports as an activity for student-athletes who live in that school's neighbourhood? Join the conversation in the comments below.