UHSAA releases long-awaited written rulings for East, Timpview
Since last Friday, upset administrators and coaches have been demanding the Utah High School Activities Association give them rationale for why rulings on East and Timpview seemed to be inconsistent.
Much of that rationale has been floating through the press in the last few days, but finally all parties have something on paper from the association itself.
The UHSAA released written decisions on both the East and Timpview sanctions, which were issued after it was discovered both had played ineligible players this season. Timpview, among other sanctions, was required to forfeit all games in which it had used an ineligible player. East, with other more serious sanctions, was required to forfeit 6 out 7 of its wins with ineligible players.
The two rulings, issued by the same panel on the same day, had many football observers wound up or at least confused.
In the four-page written decision of East, the UHSAA panel had scathing remarks for the East administration, which it felt failed its eligible players to an unparalleled degree. The decision especially critiqued the process which left all errors at the feet of athletic director Kathy Butler. Instead, the panel felt principal Paul Sagers was chiefly at fault for a process they felt was eventually bound to fail:
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. In practice, the head coach is the person most likely to recognize and report new and possibly ineligible players. Clearly, under the Association's rules, the East coach continued to have this duty, but the East principal circumvented it by suggesting that all the eligibility matters be placed on the shoulders of the AD. Consequently, by order of her principal, she could not expect help from either the principal or the coach. We cannot be certain that it was deliberate, but it set the stage for her to appear responsible for failures that actually belonged to the principal and head coach.
But the UHSAA felt obligated to find some way for the team to play, not because of the four ineligible players, but for all the eligible players on East's roster that the administration had failed. The UHSAA's bylaws stipulate that they have the power to "fashion relief" for those who might need it - in this case, East's eligible players.
We believe that forfeiture is the appropriate sanction but for the rare circumstance where the forfeiture is unduly harsh and would impose not merely a sanction or penalty but an unreasonably burdensome hardship. We believe that in this case, the forfeiture of every contest and the resulting loss of eligibility to compete in the State Football Tournament for the eligible players is too harsh a result on the specific facts before us.
One of the problems schools had with the sanctions, particularly for East, is that it had a collateral effect of excluding Cyprus while setting up a potential first-round match with No. 1 seed Herriman.
Although the schools said the panel hadn't thought out the consequences, the UHSAA denied it:
We are not unaware that in placing East as a fourth seed, it will be playing teams that otherwise would have faced lower seeds. Accordingly, we will require East to play every post season game on the road and suspend its head football coach for the first three games of the playoffs. We also require East to Forfeit its Region Championship title.
The Timpview decision is only two pages long, but addressed the issue that Timpview principal Todd McKee raised on Monday: It was not within the trustee's panel's power to overrule the executive committee's hearing because the original Region 8 meeting counted as its own formal hearing. The only appeal should have been to the UHSAA's executive committee - which, if true, would have left both schools with the original ruling that both had to accept all forfeits.
The decision addressed this in a lengthy footnote:
First, by seeking and participating in an appeal without objection, Timpview has waived whatever impropriety it now sees in the process. Additionally, at the beginning of our BOT Panel's review of the Timpview matter, the processes and procedures were explained, Timpview was advised that the Association had considered the EC Panel to be a "hearing" panel and Timpview was, again, given an opportunity to object. It did not. ... Finally, because the Region reviews, whether called hearings or recommendations, come from a group with an inherent conflict of interest, the usual safeguards of impartiality and objectivity cannot be met. For example, in this very matter, Timpview participated in the decision on its violations and voted against imposing any forfeiture on itself. The Association does not consider them "hearings" within the meaning of the rules related to appeals.
The summary: The UHSAA says it had the right to do what it did. Which frankly, in the eyes of many coaches, is not good enough reasoning.
East has already won its play-in game with Mountain View, so it appears what has been set in motion is now just that: in motion. The Class 4A playoffs will go on.
But be prepared for some debate this winter when the UHSAA revisits its bylaws. There could be a strong push to require forfeits in ineligible player cases. After the controversy these cases inspired, more people in high school sports seem to want to draw a hard line in the sand.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon