A couple of inquiries have been made concerning TAIAO’s policy allowing 14 year olds (as of May 31st of the current school year) to play on the Varsity Level without affecting their eligibility, in general, as well as specifically Track and Field. The following are some questions that have been asked along with the answers:
- What is the TAIAO policy for allowing TAIAO member athletes to play on the varsity level without affecting their eligibility.
TAIAO policy does allow a 14 YO (after May 31st) to play on the varsity level, but unless some very specific exceptions apply, that 14 YO would use the first year of eligibility (out of four total). Schools/organizations in the smallest division are allowed to “play up” without losing a year of eligibility if it is required for the organization to field a team. Here is the rule from the TAIAO General Rules (Section 236.F.1):
“Playing Up”; Only students in the smallest division will be allowed to participate at the High School level without affecting their high school eligibility (See Subsection 236. E. above). Playing up will only be allowed if the Member Organization cannot field the minimum number of players required plus 2 for all sports other than football and plus 3 for football to begin the event, contest, game or match for the sport in question. The sole purpose of “Playing Up” a student shall be to allow the Member Organization to participate in the sport in question and shall not be for the purpose of allowing the team in question to be more competitive. This shall apply to any event, contest, competition or game including, without limitation, against both TAIAO and non-TAIAO opponents.
2) How does this rule apply to track?
While not currently specified in the rule, the Steering Committee has looked at this issue in depth over the last several days. TAIAO has made a conscious decision to discourage “playing up”. We found that the “Plus 2” rule for sports other than football does could not be applied to track, because most events are individual events. Allowing organizations to “play up” 14 YO’s without impacting their eligibility just to have participation in more individual events is effectively doing so just to make the overall team better, as opposed to needing to move them up in order to be able to field a team. The EXCEPTION is relay events. If a HS team only has 3 competitors in all events, then they cannot field a 4 person relay. As such, the rules would allow a 14 YO to play up for the relay, without affecting his/her eligibility. If they participated at the High School Level for other events however, then they would be considered a HS student and start their eligibility running. To be clear, if an organization has 4 competitors in any events, EVEN IF ONE doesn’t normally participate in relays, this exception would not apply.
3) Can an athlete that “plays up” in track and is granted an exception compete in other events as a Middle School Athlete?
Yes. Section 236.F.2 states that an athlete cannot play at the Middle School level and High School level in the same week. The Steering Committee has determined that an exception to this rule is warranted for track athletes that are playing up only to allow their organization to have a HS relay team. To not grant this exception would effectively ban such an athlete from participating in any other events than the relay.
4) Do the “playing up” rules apply to all games/contests, or just to games/contests against other TAIAO opponents
All contests. We cannot have different eligibility rules for games that are not against TAIAO opponents. If a 14 YO athlete “plays up” in a non TAIAO meet or game without an eligibility exemption under rule 236.F.1, they would lose that year of eligibility even if they played at the MS level for all TAIAO meets or games.
5) What if our organization does not participate in TAIAO for all sports?
An athlete cannot be a MS athlete for one sport, and a HS athlete for others in the same year. For example, if an organization does not participate in TAIAO basketball and they have a 14 YO athlete that plays at the HS level (without a 236.F.1 exception), then they want to allow that 14 YO to play at the MS level for Football, that would not be permissible under the rules.
6) Why is the policy so restrictive?
TAIAO has a significant number of members that are Home School organizations. As such we have to be VERY CAREFUL with the perception that Non TAIAO schools and leagues have of our members. Rightly or wrongly, Home School organizations are sometimes perceived as allowing anyone to play regardless of grade or age. Since we determine eligibility by age, rather than grade as other leagues do, we have to enforce the age limits vigorously, or risk having non TAIAO members accuse our members of playing ineligible athletes. In addition, there is a risk to the athlete. If a 14YO plays up, EVEN WITH AN EXCEPTION, they could be told they do not have a senior year of eligibility if they choose to transfer to a school that is not in our league. It is for this reason that we have very limited exceptions regulating when a 14 YO can play up without losing eligibility. All of that being said, it is important to understand that other leagues DO NOT ALLOW 14 YO’s to ‘play up’ under any circumstances. Our ‘restrictive’ policy is actually allows more flexibility than other leagues.
Questions about this or any other General Rules should be addressed to the Steering Committee.