Bill Walker: What Does the Future Hold

August 10th, 2006
Imagine yourself as a high school basketball player who is recognized as not only one of the best in your city or even state, but among the best in country. Imagine coming out of the locker room, and instead of seeing the smattering of friends and family that most high school gyms host, you see a few thousand people cramming into rickety wooden bleachers and lining the walls, all looking at you.  Imagine winning two state championships before you even have a date for junior prom. Imagine looking forward to a senior year with your best friend, and the endless possibilities it could bring. Now imagine it all being taken away, leaving that clear future a little murky.  Such is the life of Bill Walker, the super-athletic forward who was ruled ineligible for his senior year at Cincinnati's North College Hill High School.


On July 10, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) announced that Walker had completed his eight allowable semesters of varsity competition, thus making him ineligible to play basketball in his upcoming senior year. The OHSAA found that Walker had played two semesters of varsity basketball at Rose Hill Christian (Ashland, Ky.) as a ninth-grader, before transferring to NCH in February of 2003 and enrolling there as an eighth-grader. Under OHSAA by-laws, a student can play only eight semesters of any varsity sport, even if that student played completed some of those semesters elsewhere.


Questions about Walker’s transcript and why he enrolled as en eighth-grader at NCH haven’t produced clear answers, and have only found a sparse paper trail. Already a year older than many kids in his class, Walker appears, from the outside, to be another hot-shot prep athlete who was caught abusing transfer rules, and now is paying the price.


But another issue may be lurking here. In today’s prep world, athletes are being scouted earlier and earlier, all the while looking for the most possible exposure. It isn’t that unusual to see or hear about athletes attending three or four different high school as they try to find a system that will best allow them to showcase their talent.  Knowing that, why would the states not adopt uniform transfer rules for high school athletes, rather than each state having a different set of regulations? 


If every state were to adopt the same set of regulations for high school athletes, situations like the one Walker is facing may start to fade out. There will always be transfers, but confusion over eligibility should become less of an issue. A high school athlete could have, as an example, 10 semesters to play varsity sports, and when they were done, they were done. There would be no transferring to a different state where you might still be able to play, or no demoting a student a grade to give him an extra year of eligibility.


The rule may affect prodigies, who are supremely talented and can compete at the high school level at an early age. But wouldn’t it make more sense to do that, rather than practically invite kids to test their eligibility at four different high schools in four years?  Theoretically, Walker could drive about 20 miles south, cross the Kentucky River, and try to find a school that will let him play his senior year. He may not test that ruling but you can be assured that someone will in the near future.


A consensus top-5 player in the class of 2007, Walker will likely rebound from this disappointment, and should still be sporting an NBA uniform within the next few years. He recently announced that he is challenging the ruling, and is still hoping to play next season, although a decision isn’t expected until the fall.


Whether or not Walker knowingly abused the rules of eligibility is a different story, and one that we likely will never know for sure. Maybe the ruling should stand, and he will serve as the reminder that high school kids are students first, and athletes second. Or maybe the ruling should be over-turned, because Walker was simply doing what those around him were telling him to do, and what others are doing across the country.


Some will say that rules are rules, and he broke the rules – end of story. But former Oak Hill and Riverdale Baptist forward Michael Beasley, another top-5 recruit in the class of 2007, will play for yet another high school this coming season. Why can some kids move freely throughout the country, trying out high schools like they were tennis shoes, while others get burned?


Imagine if other laws were enforced this way. What if a man robs a gas station at gunpoint in Oregon, and is given jail time, while a man robs a gas station at gunpoint in Virginia, and isn’t punished at all? The example may be extreme, but the point should be clear. If rules are rules, let’s make them rules all over the place. Unless this happens, we can expect the merry-go-round of high school athletes to continue well into the future.