Old School Andy: Fitting punishment as UHSAA drops hammer on East football

COMMENTARY – Mama tried to slap the hands of the bad boys. But Daddy came along and gave them a full-on spanking … and grounded them, too.

East High used four ineligible players this season, citing a clerical error, en route to what had been a dream season. Now the dream has turned into a nightmare for athletic director Kathy Butler, coach Brandon Matich and anyone else associated with the East High football program.

Earlier this week, the Region 6 board of directors issued a very light punishment to East, suspending Matich and the players in question, among other light slaps on the wrist.

Then the issue was passed on to the Utah High School Activities Association to review. The UHSAA was not so forgiving, ruling that East committed “a wholesale failure to determine that participants have met all eligibility requirements,” and that there were “four separate and distinct episodes in which ineligible students were matriculated as if they were, in fact, eligible.”

Accordingly, the executive committee ruled “that East must forfeit any contest in which it used an ineligible player.”

That means the Leopards immediately go from 8-1 to 1-8. It’s a huge decision, with East considered a favorite at state in the 4A ranks. Now the Leopards will miss the playoffs entirely. Incidentally, one of those wins was against Pine View, so the Panthers record improves to 7-3.

The bottom line is this: Four East players were academically ineligible, but the administration (including the coach) chose to ignore that fact and played the players anyway. Flying in the face of every other school that tries to keep the rules, East apparently considered itself above the law.

In the ruling (linked below), the UHSAA executive committee even points out that it was no honest mistake: “This was not a ‘clerical error,’ in which a box was wrongly checked or a name misspelled or even a document wrongly filed. It was a wholesale failure.”

I’m not sure how word got out. But I have learned in life that when you cheat, you almost always get caught eventually.

Picture, if you will, a young man (we’ll call him Jonny) who has done things the right way. He’s been to every practice, every weight room session and every camp. He goes to class, does his homework and sweats out every midterm after studying late into the night. He’s paid his dues to his beloved school.

But Jonny doesn’t get to play. Why? Well, he got beat out of the job. Someone was faster or stronger or whatever. That happens all the time in sports.

But as it turns out, the guy who has Jonny’s job also doesn’t go to class. He doesn’t do homework. And he certainly doesn’t sweat a midterm because he knows someone’s going to let him skate by anyway.

Sadly, there are people reading this who think that’s OK.

There is a famous radio talk-show host who loves to say, “Life’s not fair. Get used to it. Star players go by a different set of rules than the rest of us.”

I hate that cynical attitude. Besides, that may be true at the professional and even collegiate level, but we’re talking about high school sports.

Life may not be completely fair, but I’d like to think we all try to live by the same rules. Every few years we catch someone trying to ignore those rules, whether it be a USC or Miami in the NCAA, the Saints or the Patriots in the NFL or East (and now Timpview as well) in high school football.

I applaud the UHSAA for sticking to their guns in this high-profile case.

Last spring, Snow Canyon had a baseball player who was ineligible and the Warriors had to forfeit a number of games. In Snow Canyon’s case, it seemed to be an honest oversight. Nevertheless, the UHSAA and Region 9 made sure the Warriors, state contenders, still paid the forfeiture price.

It would have been easy to cave and let East go with the lighter Region 6 sentence. Instead, the UHSAA stuck to their guns and issued the forfeiture ruling.

“There is no doubt that forfeiture is a harsh penalty. Nevertheless, the Association has repeatedly affirmed and enforced such a penalty for the use of ineligible players,” reads the ruling.

In other words, no special treatment for East or Timpview or any of the other “Big Boys” of high school football.

Clearly, the UHSAA is not the bad guy here. They have a set of rules and they don’t bend them for anyone.

Every coach I have dealt with in the past decade is hyperaware of the grades factor in high school athletics. Go to class, get decent grades, play sports. That’s the drill.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of good kids that play for East who kept the rules, but will also have to suffer due to this ruling.

But I think the lesson taught here is worth it.

It’s a sure bet that the next time a player doesn’t make grades, every coach in the state will make sure that player is nowhere near the field.

Read the ruling for yourself here: East High School Decision 2

Update: Timpview also to pay the price for using an ineligible player: Timpview High School Decision 3

Andy Griffin is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, 2012, all rights reserved.

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  • Dave October 19, 2012 at 12:56 am

    After reading this article and the rulings I’m left with a couple of questions.

    First, what are the academic requirements of eligibility? Since we’re not through the first term yet and East is forfeiting games dating back to the beginning of the year are they grades from last year? The ruling doesn’t give a lot of detail.

    Also, after reading “the non-complying school may forfeit any contest, team title or team championship obtained when such an ineligible player competed as part of the team” I’m wondering if “may” has ever been used in a decision. As the article points out, Snow Canyon’s seems to have been an honest mistake. Timpview’s had to do with a student moving over to an alternative school and back (I believe) and not getting the paperwork submitted. So what is considered minor enough to earn that “may” privilege and not forfeit any contests? Has it ever happened. If not, why not just remove it.

    It seems that they took quite a bit of time to compose their justifications for their right for stiff penalties but no real specifics as to what exactly happened.

  • Matt October 19, 2012 at 5:18 am

    The players were not academically ineligible. Their grades were fine. They had attended other schools, and they didn’t file the right paperwork or, in Timpview’s situation last year, they were missing a signature. Although I don’t disagree with the decisions since they are consistent with the rules.

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