No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns was one of many New Jersey products to bring the notion of “redshirting” teenagers in middle school — holding kids back a year to give them an athletic advantage at the prep level — to the national consciousness in recent years.
NJ Advanced Media’s Matt Stanmyre covered the phenomenon last month in an article entitled, “Bigger, stronger, faster: How redshirting is changing H.S. sports,” citing coaches who pegged the number of elite athletes taking advantage of this option at 20-50 percent.
New Jersey State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) apparently read that article, along with Stanmyre’s accompanying feature on Josh McKenzie, the nation’s top-ranked football and wrestling recruit in the Class of 2019. Codey, a New Jersey politician since 1974 and the state’s governor from 2004-06, plans to introduce a bill that will penalize schools for fielding student-athletes who repeat a year in middle school for athletic reasons, according to NJ Advanced Media.
“Right now, it’s not cheating, but we know it is,” Codey said. “It’s trying to game the system. This issue has been digging at me for years. …
“It’s clear in 99 percent of these cases it’s being done for athletic advantage. This phenomenon has been around, but it’s to me, anecdotally, growing by leaps and bounds.”
The idea behind “redshirting” in middle school is fairly straightforward. With one extra year to mature physically and improve skills athletically, kids find themselves in better position to climb recruit rankings. Obviously, a talent like Towns would’ve been special regardless of when he began high school, but if staying back a year helps a kid land a scholarship he may otherwise have never received, that’s no small reward for parents facing college tuition costs approaching a quarter of a million bucks.
New Jersey, like many states, currently requires student-athletes to be no older than 18 years of age entering their senior years and caps a player’s eligibility at four high school seasons. Codey’s bill would reportedly preclude schools with student-athletes who repeated a grade for athletic reasons from participating in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association and its state tournaments.
Codey’s bill, as he explained it to NJ Advanced Media, presents all sorts of problems. How are they to determine whether someone stayed back for athletic reasons? Why would an entire school be penalized for one student-athlete’s decision to stay back? What’s to stop parents from simply delaying their child’s start of first grade to circumvent the system? And do we really need to legislate something that’s already addressed in the NJSIAA bylaws? Those are just a few that immediately spring to mind.