Maybe we should put Wayne Carney in charge of the EB-5 visa program.

Mitchell Christian High School finds itself embroiled in a minor visa controversy. A group called A-HOPE  (African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education) brought Sudanese exchange student Majok Mangar Majok to Mitchell on an F-1 visa December 1. He enrolled as a sophomore at Mitchell Christian the next day, expecting to suit up right away and play basketball. The South Dakota High School Activities Association told the 6'9" (yes, that detail is relevant) student to go back to his books; under an F-1 visa, he's not eligible to play ball.

SDHSAA executive director Wayne Carney explains to the Mitchell Daily Republic that we have rules on who can play ball and who can't. We let foreign exchange students on J-1 visa play, because those students are on official, government-sponsored exchange programs. F-1 visa holders are here under the aegis of private student exchange programs. We permit F-1 visa holders to play if they come from one of 24 vetted, reputable programs, of which A-HOPE is not one.

A-HOPE, an organization based in basketball-obsessed Indiana, doesn't look for promising math scholars, future engineers, or budding writers. It doesn't pick smart short kids. It searches Africa for young gladiators, tall, strong boys who can entertain us in our arenas.

A-HOPE athletes have faced eligibility questions in other states. The Illinois High School Association ruled that A-HOPE takes advantage of its recruits. An ESPN investigation in 2011 found that A-HOPE spends most of its money on travel and very little on helping to provide an education. That ESPN story included this perhaps relevant finding:

The 12 players A-HOPE identifies as members of its past five classes attended at least 32 U.S. high schools among them. "It seems to be this recruitment tool for the [summer travel teams]," says Chet Marshall, an administrator at Culver (Ind.) Academy, the first of four private schools attended by Perea. "And during the year, by the way, 'We'll find you a private school so you can stay out of trouble and no one else [in the basketball subculture] can find you'" [Mike Fish, "Basketball Ties That Bind," ESPN.com, 2011.05.26].

The SDHSAA establishes eligibility rules to prevent extracurriculars from pre-empting the educational mission of our schools. Here's the SDHSAA's rationale for transfer/residency requirements:

A transfer/residency requirement assists in the prevention of students changing schools in conjunction with the change of athletic season for athletic purposes; impairs recruitment, and reduces the opportunity for undue influence to be exerted by persons seeking to benefit from a student-athletes prowess.

A transfer/residency requirement promotes stability and harmony amongst member schools by maintaining the amateur standing of high school athletics; by not letting individuals other than enrolled students participate, and upholding the principle that a student should attend the high school in the district where the student’s guardian(s) reside.

A transfer/residency requirement also prohibits foreign students, other than students who are participants in an established foreign exchange program accepted for listing by the Council on Standard for International Educational Travel (CSIET), from displacing other students from athletic opportunities [South Dakota High School Activities Association, "Eligibility Rules and Regulations," updated July 2013].

Under normal open enrollment rules, a student who switches schools mid-year has to sit out for nine school weeks before participating in any extra-curricular activities. SDHSAA will waive that rule in cases of hardship. But there appears to be no hardship here. Majok isn't a refugee uprooted from his home unexpectedly by war or other grim circumstances. He is the subject of a program seeking specifically to seed small, out-of-the-way high schools with basketball players:

“If the program was on the list, it would give it some validity,” Carney said. “Then we would know the students are not being placed at schools on their athletic abilities.”

[Mitchell Christian superintendent Joseph] Fox said he thought Majok would leave the school due to being held out of athletics for a full year [Aaron Saunders, "Foreign Exchange Student Ruled Ineligible for MCS Boys," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.12.19].

Majok's quick change of venue shows that A-HOPE does not have educational opportunities as its primary mission; SDHSAA is thus right not to play ball with them.