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East High School BOT Decision 4

East High School BOT Decision 4

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Published by Kyle Goon
DECISION OF APPEALS PANEL IN RE: EAST HIGH SCHOOL

On October 19, 2012, a Panel of five members of the Board of Trustees (BOT Panel) of the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA or Association) was convened to hear an appeal of a decision of the Panel of the Executive Committee (EC Panel) of the Association. The EC Panel held a hearing on October 17, 2012, in which it took evidence and heard argument from East High School and Region 6 regarding East’s admission that four ineligible play
DECISION OF APPEALS PANEL IN RE: EAST HIGH SCHOOL

On October 19, 2012, a Panel of five members of the Board of Trustees (BOT Panel) of the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA or Association) was convened to hear an appeal of a decision of the Panel of the Executive Committee (EC Panel) of the Association. The EC Panel held a hearing on October 17, 2012, in which it took evidence and heard argument from East High School and Region 6 regarding East’s admission that four ineligible play

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Published by: Kyle Goon on Oct 24, 2012
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DECISION OF APPEALS PANELIN RE: EAST HIGH SCHOOL
On October 19, 2012, a Panel of five members of the Board of Trustees (BOT Panel) of the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA or Association) was convened to hear anappeal of a decision of the Panel of the Executive Committee (EC Panel) of the Association. TheEC Panel held a hearing on October 17, 2012, in which it took evidence and heard argument
from East High School and Region 6 regarding East’s admission that four ineligible players
hadparticipated in one or more contests over the course of the 2012 Football Season. East admittedin the hearing that at least one ineligible player had participated in every contest. The EC Paneladopted some of the Region 6 recommendations but used its discretion under the By-Laws toapply the forfeiture penalties to every contest in which any of the ineligible players participated.The EC Panel decided, in part, as follows:
“ East must forfeit any contest in which it used an
ineligible player. The Panel upholds the fine of $1500.00 to the school but vacates the other
 penalties including the suspension of the head football coach.”
 East has appealed that decision.
East’s argument at the appeal included a summary of thelives of the four ineligible players, the football coach’s statement of affection for his team,
letters
of support for “the students” from some interested politicians and the Salt Lake City SchoolDistrict and a statement from East’s Principal. The Chair of Region 6 also spoke out against the
use of forfeitures suggesting that some Regions use the penalty and others do not. In each case,
the essence of the argument was that “innocent students” should not be punished for the mistakes
of the administrators in whose legal and moral care they have been placed.While this BOT Panel sympathizes with the difficulties outlined for the four students, thismatter is not really about them as individuals. Indeed, the discussion of them was irrelevant toour decision. They were and will remain ineligible as part of our penalties. Moreover, East
’s
attempt to shift the focus from its own wrongdoing to the plight of the students is unpersuasiveand improper. As the EC Panel rightly
concluded, “East’s abdication of . . . responsibilitiesconstituted a severe lack of institutional control.”
 
While East’s argu
ment focused on the four players, it was not asking this BOT Panel torule on their eligibility. Rather, it was asking us to relieve all other
eligible
players from theharsh consequences of East
s utter failure to adhere to the By-Laws.These were not mere
“clerical error 
s
,” despite East’s attempt to minimize its own
recklessness. When questioned, East admitted that the errors here were not clerical butwholesale failures to follow the rules. There were at least four admitted instances in whichstudents who should have submitted paperwork for a hardship waiver to establish eligibility werepurportedly told by the AD that they did not need to do so. In each case, the excuse given in thehearings for this failure was based on untenable and unreasonable interpretations of the rules.These notions were so plainly wrong that no one, including any administrator, could havethought them correct.This was a pattern of indulgence and indifference. It was also a scheme that intentionally
 
violated the Association’s rules. The Association requires that the coach, the AD, the Principal
and others take
affirmative
action to assure no ineligible player takes the field or court. Inpractice, the head coach is the person most likely to recognize and report new and possiblyineligible players.
Clearly, under the Association’s rules,
the East coach continued to have thisduty, but the East principal circumvented it by suggesting that all the eligibility matters be placedon the shoulders of the AD. Consequently, by order of her principal, she could not expect helpfrom either the principal or the coach. We cannot be certain that it was deliberate, but it set thestage for her to appear responsible for failures that actually belonged to the principal and headcoach.These sorts of violations were, in our view, the inevitable result of this mismanagementof the rules by the principal. He is, after all, the official to whom the Association trusts with theresponsibility of eligibility. Article 7 of the By-Laws requires:It shall be the duty and responsibility of the principal or equivalentexecutive officer of a member school to determine that participants have met alleligibility requirements, to assure institutional control over all athleticparticipation and to maintain an atmosphere of compliance throughout the schooland among the parents and those with a particular interest in the athletic programsof the school, i.e. boosters.Further, because forfeiture is the generally imposed penalty for playing and ineligibleplayer, East
’s administration
either knew or clearly should have known that this pattern of neglect, indifference and/or willful ignorance vagueness could put all of its participating students
at risk of forfeiting all of the football games this season. What happened to East’s
eligible
 players when these violations were uncovered seems to us to have been something the officials atEast should and could have foreseen and prevented. Perhaps, more importantly, it is somethingfor which East bears full responsibility.
During the argument, it was made clear that East’s AD had not been fired or resigned
from her teaching position; she merely resigned as AD. As part of his argument, which included
claiming these were “innocent” mistakes, the principal offered to resign if the Association wouldlet East’s players continue into the post season.
That offer, while dramatic, was disingenuous. The Association has no power to fireschool administrators.This BOT Panel agrees with the EC Panel that forfeiture is the correct penalty for playingan ineligible player and should generally and regularly be used when a team has been found tohave played an
ineligible player. That said, the Association’s Rules permit this
BOT Panel to
“impose such penalties or fashion such relief as may be proper.” (By
-Laws, Section 6 A)Moreover, while Section 6 has some specific types of penalties, sub-section A further states,
“Without limiting the Association’s ability to enforce its rules, these are among the actions the
Association
 may
 
consider.”
(emphasis added)
 
 
The penalty for forfeiture is found in Section 6 (A)(6) were it says, in relevant part, “In
cases of the use of an ineligible player, the non-complying school
 may
forfeit any contest, teamtitle or team championship obtained when such an ineligible player competed as part of the
team” (emphasis added)
 From these provisions, we find that we have the discretion to impose or decline to imposeforfeiture in total or in part as we fashion proper relief. We believe that forfeiture is theappropriate sanction but for the rare circumstance where the forfeiture is unduly harsh and wouldimpose not merely a sanction or penalty but an unreasonably burdensome hardship. We believethat in this case, the forfeiture of every contest and the resulting loss of eligibility to compete inthe State Football Tournament for the eligible players is too harsh a result on the specific factsbefore us.Consequently, East shall be required to forfeit six of seven contests in which an ineligibleplayer participated, and it shall forfeit those that will result in East being the fourth and last seedfor the post season. We realize that in so doing, we are seeding it ahead of Cyprus, a team withno violations. We do so, in part, because at the end of the season, East had been in first place,with a three team tie for second. Cyprus was a distant fifth. In the exercise of our discretion, weare keeping the first four teams in the Region in the playoffs. Additionally, when the Regionconsidered forfeitures, which would have placed Cyprus in the playoffs, Cyprus voted againstthose forfeitures
. In so doing, Cyprus openly consented to East’s participation
in the playoffsdespite playing ineligible players.1We are not unaware that in placing East as a fourth seed, it will be playing teams thatotherwise would have faced lower seeds. Accordingly, we will require East to play every postseason game on the road and suspend its head football coach for the first three games of theplayoffs. We also require East to Forfeit its Region Championship title.
We accept in full the findings of the EC Hearing Panel regarding East’s egregious
violations of the rules. East willfully turned a blind eye to these problems and evidenced a totallack of institutional control. In so doing, East put the Association in the untenable position of attempting to salvage the eligibility of its students, notwithstanding that their eligibility wasthreatened not by any act of the Association, but rather by East
s own failures and violations.Whatever the Association did with the problem would bring a firestorm of criticism.Based on the record before this BOT Panel, we unanimously issue the following sanctions andpenalties:1.
 
East shall be required to forfeit six of seven contests, and to forfeit those that willplace it in the fourth and last post season position;
1 In an open meeting at the Association, after we had issued an outline of our decision, Cyprus expresseddisagreement. It claimed that we had no basis on which to put East in the fourth playoff position and that that ourdecision seemed to be an arbitrary choice of East over Cyprus.
Cyprus described it as the writing of a “magic pen.”
As we have explained here, our decision, while disappointing to Cyprus, was based, in part on
Cyprus’ on
-fieldrecord and its consent in the Region meeting to East participating in the State Tournament despite its admittedviolations.
Cyprus had an opportunity to object to East’s continued participation and chose not to do so
, therebywaiving any objection to that participation.

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