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State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) will introduce a bill this fall that aims to penalize athletes who repeat a grade in middle school to gain athletic advantage in high school,it is being reported.

The bill would limit student athletes who repeat grades six, seven or eight — despite being academically on track — to three years or six consecutive semesters of athletic eligibility once they begin high school. The three years of eligibility would include all levels of play: freshman, junior varsity and varsity.

“Right now, it’s not cheating, but we know it is,” Codey said. “It’s trying to game the system.

Isaiah Briscoe of Roselle Catholic repeated the eighth grade to better position himself for high school success and a Division 1 scholarship.
He is a 2015 McDonald’s All-American and now a freshman at the University of Kentucky. (Amanda Marzullo | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

“This issue has been digging at me for years.”

The bill could signal a groundbreaking change to youth and high school sports across New Jersey — and perhaps the nation.

Coaches and recruiting analysts say athletes everywhere are repeating or “redshirting” in middle school in record numbers. The athletes who do it often grow bigger, stronger and faster, and become more polished athletes to better draw the attention of coaches and recruiters. Currently, there are no rules against athletes repeating a grade.

The bill aims to change New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association bylaws and force high schools to adhere to the new rules or they would not be allowed to be member schools and compete for state championships.

Codey, who is a long-time youth basketball coach and close follower of New Jersey sports, said the idea for his bill was sparked by a report on Josh McKenzie this September.

McKenzie, the nation’s top-rated football player and wrestler entering ninth grade, repeated the eighth grade to better position himself.

As a coach, Codey said he sees more players repeating, which has created an uneven playing field.

“It’s clear in 99 percent of these cases it’s being done for athletic advantage,” Codey said. “This phenomenon has been around, but it’s to me, anecdotally, growing by leaps and bounds.”

Codey said he plans to introduce the bill later this month or in early November. He said a companion bill will be co-sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) — another legislator intimately involved with the state’s sports scene — and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex).

The enforcement hammer in the bills would alter NJSIAA regulation to prohibit districts from joining statewide overseeing bodies that don’t limit “certain student-athletes who repeat middle school grade to only six consecutive semesters of interscholastic eligibility.”

In New Jersey, a student-athlete is eligible to compete as a high school senior as long as he or she turns 19 after September 1 of that school year. An athlete can only play sports for four consecutive years — so players are “red-shirting” in middle school to avoid losing a year of high school eligibility.

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