Column: City Section is showing the way how to crack down on rules violators

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For those wondering why City Section teams are having a hard time competing against the best in the sports of football and basketball at the highest level, you can blame commissioner Vicky Lagos for enforcing CIF transfer rules that are preventing schools from building the type of all-star teams in the past that got Narbonne, Hawkins and others in trouble.

When the names of nine basketball players showed up on the City Section transfer portal after paperwork was submitted by Palisades High in the fall, it immediately attracted the attention of Lagos.

She and her staff have a policy of visiting schools that receive multiple transfers for a particular sport to review if CIF rules were followed rather than relying on schools to police themselves.

She brings together in the same room administrators, coaches and parents while reviewing the required paperwork. It happened at Palisades, where four players were denied eligibility for violating rules on pre-enrollment contact (Recommendation: Do not announce a player’s arrival when they aren’t officially enrolled).

Lagos and her staff have pulled off seemingly the impossible — forcing schools and parents to follow CIF rules. The same can’t be said for the Southern Section, which has 560 schools and continues to rely on schools to investigate themselves. And you wonder why the Southern Section has a perception problem — right or wrong — that rules are violated repeatedly, whether via recruiting or students using false addresses.

Only twice in the last two school years has the Southern Section used an investigator, according to spokesman Thom Simmons. Who knew that parents and coaches were following rules so well?

Kudos to the City Section, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Unified School District, for telling ambitious coaches that rules apply to everyone. The knowledge that someone is watching closely should be motivation to follow rules. You aren’t going to build all-star teams with other schools’ players when rules are followed.

Yes, it’s hurt the City Section. Basketball teams that once toppled elite teams from the Southern Section are nowhere to be found. Football teams are 0-9 in state championship bowl finals since 2017.

Yet that doesn’t mean all is lost. In basketball, a record three City Section teams qualified for state championship games — Chatsworth boys in Division IV, Verdugo Hills boys in Division V and Granada Hills girls in Division III. Chatsworth and Granada Hills were Open Division teams dropped down because of competitive equity. They got to Sacramento playing great in the playoffs against similar opponents. They would never have advanced so far at a higher level. So following rules can lead to competing for a championship.

Once again, the City Section is about to be tested. Narbonne is getting three high-profile football transfers from Orange County. Expect a visit in the future.

The truth is City teams are playing by the rules while some of their opponents aren’t. Other sections need to better enforce their rules with school visits instead of taking the word of schools that are motivated to have championship teams, especially when transfers across the state will come close to 17,000 for the 2023-24 school year. The football transfers are already piling up, with multiple transfers happening at top programs.

Just like officials every season have points of emphasis in their rules, the CIF needs to have a point of emphasis when schools receive multiple transfers. It doesn’t mean cheating is going on, but it’s certainly a warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored. The CIF is set to begin studying priorities for the future of high school sports this fall.

Otherwise, switch to the model of the college sports transfer portal, where players are paid, transfers are unlimited and education-based sports is limited to the Ivy League.

At a minimum, changes need to take place, and following the policy of the City Section to pay visits to schools with multiple transfers from the same sport is a starting point.

Imagine if the Southern Section, the largest in the state, did the same. Suddenly there might be a perception that rules were being followed.

Last month, the City Section again showed it’s not afraid to enforce rules by refusing to allow the Birmingham and El Camino Real soccer teams to participate in the state playoffs following a fight at the conclusion of their championship game. Old-fashioned consequences.

If you want to change perceptions, you have to act. The section offices around the state are well paid to run high school sports. It’s time to start intervening so others can have confidence there’s an even playing field when it comes to transfers. The status quo is not acceptable.

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