An association rule about transferring student athletes makes it tough for players on the Eastern Commerce Saints to play for strong teams, and could limit their basketball careers.
Their school is closing, their storied basketball team is going with it and now—because of a rule by the Toronto District Secondary School Athletic Association (TDSSAA) about transferring student athletes—the Eastern Commerce Saints are fighting for their high school basketball futures.
Despite high school enrollment of only 62 students, Eastern Commerce’s basketball program was one of the most competitive teams in the province this year, and finished runner-up to arch-rival Oakwood in their league’s basketball championship. But the small student population didn’t justify keeping the school open any longer, and this month marks the last in the school’s 90-year history.
Players on the highly competitive team hoped to transfer to a school with an equally rigorous program—more than 50 Eastern Commerce alumni have earned NCAA or CIS basketball scholarships, and former standout Jamaal Magloire became an NBA all-star.
However, a TDSSAA rule states that when transferring to a different school, student athletes can only continue to play their sport of choice if they transfer to their “home school”—the school closest to their permanent address.
For basketball players on the TDSB’s most historic team, this could mean playing next year at schools far less competitive than Eastern Commerce.
Schools with weaker teams are “not going to take [players] to marquee tournaments, not going to take them to the States, not going to make it to OFSAA [the Ontario championship tournament]. So that kid playing on that mediocre program is not going to get seen by potential scouts,” says Eastern Commerce assistant coach Nigel Tan.
“My goal is to get a Division I [NCAA] scholarship,” says Trevor Hutton, who played for the Saints during their final season. At his home school “there’s no exposure, there’s no OFSAA, so it would really suck in that department.”
According to OFSAA and the TDSSAA, the transfer rule is in place for several reasons—one of which is to prevent powerhouse schools from drawing the best talent and creating uneven playing fields in local leagues.
“[The] role of school sport is to provide good competition with a sound participation base and sportsmanship component, not the development of elite athletes or to profile athletes for scholarship purposes,” states the TDSSAA handbook on transfer policies.
However, many of the players on the Saints have goals to achieve athletic scholarships to universities in the U.S. and Canada.
Tan says the TDSB is unofficially in favour of allowing the former Saints players to continue to play anywhere they choose next year because of the unique circumstances surrounding their transfers. However, he points out that even if students are allowed to transfer to schools with highly competitive teams, they will still have to work hard to earn a starting spot.