Eligibility rules must be enforced by high school league

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High School Football

Eligibility rules must be enforced by high school league

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012   |  750 Words  |  

There are a lot of voices from around the state saying the S.C. High School League was sending the wrong message Monday when, for the second time in a week, it upheld Goose Creek High School's disqualification from the 4-A football playoffs for using an ineligible player.

Don't believe it.

The ruling ended the Gators' quest for a second straight 4-A Division II championship despite a 35-25 playoff win over Bluffton on Friday night.

When Goose Creek again made its case before the executive committee Monday, we learned much about John Doe, as we've come to know the unidentified ineligible player over the past week.

We learned how he had a poor home life, may have qualified as a special needs student, spent time in foster care, had prior discipline issues, spent time in a group home before attending several different high schools and had straightened up his act since coming to Goose Creek.

All of that was irrelevant.

The committee asked a lot of questions, less about John Doe's background and more about his transcript. When it was discovered Berkeley High School considered Doe a senior last season, it became clear things were not going Goose Creek's way.

The committee denied Goose Creek's appeal, 14-0. A mercy vote on a motion to make the player ineligible and fine the school while allowing them to continue playing didn't fare much better, 12-2.

Goose Creek supporters begged, yelled and cried, the sentiments by now familiar.

  • This isn't fair for the players, who did nothing wrong.
  • We didn't break the rules on purpose.
  • We gained no competitive advantage. The kid barely played.
  • All of those may be true. But of all the rules established by the high school league, by far the ones enforced most stringently are eligibility rules. They have to be. Otherwise, the entire system would collapse.

    As a result those rules may seem unfair, sometimes. But Goose Creek didn't end up in the situation it did because the rule was unfair. It ended up in the situation because it didn't do its job.

    When John Doe came to Goose Creek, his transcript, by the school's admission, was incomplete. Rather than wait until it had his complete transcript, Goose Creek suited up Doe and played him.

    When the Gators realized later he was ineligible, they self-reported their transgression to the high school league. That makes arguing a week later that he was eligible look silly.

    Goose Creek said Doe should be eligible for a hardship. They were right. The problem is you have to apply for that before he's eligible to play. Not after you've been caught playing him.

    A little patience or attention to detail and none of this happens.

    Instead, supporters and fans, including Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy have taken to blaming the SCHSL, calling for reform.

    I've heard this week that once again, kids are paying for the mistakes of adults. And it's true.

    But the mistakes didn't belong to the dozen-plus principals, athletics directors and educators who make up the executive committee. They are only upholding the rules each school agreed to play by when joining the S.C. High School League.

    The mistakes belong to the athletic department at Goose Creek High School. That's who failed.

    If it seems unfair for the Goose Creek players to have their season ended early, imagine how unfair it would have been for all the schools that follow the rules and do things the right way if Goose Creek would have been allowed to continue.

    Isn't that part of sportsmanship, playing by the rules? Is sportsmanship the wrong message to send?

    The wrong message would have been if the SCHSL essentially said, "if we make a ruling you don't like, lawyer up and we'll back down."

    But that's not the message the high school league sent to the states' coaches, administrators and athletes.

    Instead, it echoed Bluffton athletics director Dave Adams' sentiments when it said, "Play by the rules or pay the price."

    Sounds fair to me.