If a Tree Falls in the Woods: Finding Fault in the Jason Groome Transfer Rules Violation

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Everyone is familiar with the old philosophical riddle, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a sound?” Well, in some cases, that riddle can be applied to any situation, including this developing story out of Barnegat.

A week and a half after throwing a 19 strikeout no-hitter in his second start, Barnegat High School ace pitcher and presumptive MLB Draft #1 overall pick Jason Groome has been ruled ineligible due to a reported violation of transfer rules. According to the New Jersey’s prep sport governing body, Groome, who initially transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton for his junior season, left after a year in order to be closer to friends and family.

The NJSIAA rules state that a player must sit 30 days before being allowed to join an interscholastic athletic team should he transfer in. Barnegat High School did not follow the rules, allowing Groome to pitch two games before the governing body ruled him ineligible. As a result, Barnegat is forced to forfeit the two games that he played and his stats are wiped from the record books. Additionally, Groome will not be allowed to play until the end of April, effectively cancelling out most of his senior season.

This whole situation is wrong on many levels, mainly in part due to lack of communication between the NJSIAA and Barnegat High School. The fact that Groome has to be punished for this shows how awful these transfer rules are.

Insight from my friends at Reddit explain that the rules were put in place in order to prevent programs from developing powerhouse teams in certain sports, wrestling in particular. The rules in fact were put in place specifically in order to prevent transfers for athletic advantage.

First of all, having had the chance to read the NJSIAA’s full policy on student transfers, it’s clear that what Groome did was clearly not to give Barnegat an advantage, but rather because of personal reasons. He left IMG Academy because he was homesick, not because he wanted to increase his draft stock.

To be fair, this isn’t a case of the NJSIAA trying to take down a powerhouse school unfairly, however, instead of waiting this long to deliver a ruling, the governing body should have started asking questions as to why Groome left Barnegat, then came back. While I admit that I am not well versed in the NJSIAA’s procedures, I have to ask, why didn’t they act more diligently?

In the wake of such a high profile transfer, why didn’t they send a memo to the Barnegat athletics department clearly stating the transfer rules? Groome was a projected first round pick, granted he wasn’t the projected first overall pick at the time of his transfer, but still, he had enough visibility in order for the NJSIAA to at least take notice. Why did they sit on their hands and wait until Groome made at least two starts before swooping in and saying that rules had been broken?

Furthermore, what is the deal with striking Groome’s senior stats from the record books, and forfeiting Barnegat’s wins? Exactly what is this accomplishing? Fans and scouts saw Groome pitch a no-hitter, and wiping his stat line is going to do nothing to change the perception of who he is as a prospect. The same could be said for any athlete or coach whose stats were retroactively wiped. Even if the governing body has the records erased, it doesn’t mean that it can change the past.

Look at Reggie Bush back in 2005, for instance. He had an outstanding season at USC and won the Heisman. Years later, the NCAA retroactively canceled out his stats and whitewashed his Heisman because it was ruled that he was ineligible for receiving improper benefits. It doesn’t matter, every college football fan in the country saw what he did. The benefits that Bush received did not impact his athletic performance in any way, Similarly with Joe Paterno during the Penn State scandal, because the NCAA felt that they needed to play the role of moral guardians instead of letting the police do their jobs, Paterno’s records were wiped, his statue was removed, and he left Penn State and died in disgrace because he was a victim of circumstance. Still, ask any Penn State during their time in NCAA purgatory how many games Paterno won, and they would most likely say 409, instead of the NCAA-mandated 298. The point here is that you can’t dictate what happened in the past, and the NJSIAA is clearly trying to save face by retroactively wiping out Groome’s stats.

Lastly, why didn’t the NJSIAA abide by their own rules? Rule 2 in the Transfer procedure states that a transfer is subject to a prompt review by the NJSIAA so that they can determine if the transfer was used for an athletic advantage. Groome transferred at the beginning of the school year, so the NJSIAA had ample time to read his case and make a ruling. Furthermore, if they had concerns, why didn’t they summon Groome for a hearing so that he could plead his case? Would it have been that hard to ask him to stop by so that he could explain why he came back to Barnegat? Furthermore, Rule 3 clearly states what constitutes a transfer for athletic advantage, and based on Groome’s reason for transferring back, it’s clear that he did not:

A. look to join a superior team: Going from IMG Academy, one of the best prep athletics programs in the country back to Barnegat, which is a public school in New Jersey, should not raise any red flags about level of competition unless the NJSIAA believed that Groome wanted to pad his stats.

B. Seek relief due to a conflict with the philosophy or action of  an administrator, teacher or coach relating to sports: Groome doesn’t seem to be the type of kid to have philosophical differences with coaches or teachers, and unless there was an incident at IMG which further prompted him to leave outside of his desire to return home, I highly doubt that he had issues with the coaches or teachers at IMG.

C. Seek a team consistent with the student’s athletic abilities: If Groome had wanted to play for a team that was more on his level, he would have stayed at IMG Academy. New Jersey may be one of the best Northeastern states for baseball, but the talent level is nowhere near that of Florida, Georgia, Texas, or California, widely considered to be powerhouses on the prep circuit.

D. Seek a means to nullify punitive action by the previous school. Again, unless there was an incident at IMG Academy, it’s highly doubtful that Groome left in order to escape discipline.

So as you can see, the NJSIAA clearly was operating on black and white logic instead of delving deeper into Groome’s decision to transfer back. Had they addressed the issue more promptly, this whole mess could have been avoided entirely.

To be fair though, Barnegat High School does deserve some blame. As a member of the NJSIAA, they should have at least pretended to know the policies behind student transfers. Furthermore, they had two options, they could have just let Groome sit, or they could have explained the situation behind Groome’s transfer to the governing body. Instead, they disregarded a simple set of rules and now they are without their ace for the rest of April.

The point is, however, that a young man will lose most of his senior season, an opportunity to further improve his draft stock, and also the chance pitch for a charity event in Red Bank, and all of this is because the governing body and the school both made stupid decisions. Whether or not this does affect his draft stock, if I were Groome, I would rightfully be upset with the decision.

So to conclude, if Jason Groome throws a 19-pitch no-hitter and the NJSIAA cancels it out because he’s retroactively ruled ineligible, did he still throw the no-hitter? I think we all know the answer to that question.

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