MIDVALE — The transfer of four players, including two three-year starters, to Bingham and another to Woods Cross was a devastating emotional blow to the Kearns football program.
But it was not undue influence.
"Although there was evidence suggesting that the transfers might have been the product of recruiting, the evidence did not permit the panel to find fault with either Bingham High School or Woods Cross high school," said UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner.
The panel's ruling means that all five players who transferred are eligible to play football and there will be no punishment to the receiving schools. The transfers involved two families at Bingham — Joe Kaufusi and three brothers — Leki Finefeuiaki, Sione Finefeuiaki and T.J. Pulu — and one player to Woods Cross — Marcus Teller. Saia Finefeuiaki, the father of the three boys, was an assistant coach at Kearns last year.
The transfers to Bingham came after a season of turmoil that included multiple meetings between the boys' parents, coaches and administrators. The parents were dissatisfied with the coaches and repeatedly asked about replacing the team's offensive coordinator with the father of the Finefeuiaki boys, Saia Finefeuiakia, or adding him to the staff.
When administrators repeatedly said they were satisfied with the school's coaching staff, the families decided to leave the program.
Both families moved into the Bingham area and were declared eligible under the transfer rule's full-family move exemption. Bill Cosper, Kearns head football coach, brought allegations of undue influence to the UHSAA, and officials held a hearing to determine if the families' move to new schools was the result of enticement or encouragement of the receiving schools' coaching staffs.
Cosper presented several witnesses and witness statements that said the boys and/or their parents were told the boys would have a better chance at college scholarships if they played for Bingham. He pointed out that the boys' fathers worked with Bingham assistant coach Iloa Vakapuna, and several people (other players' parents) said they were told Vakapuna had encouraged the families to move to Bingham.
Vakapuna denied the allegations.
"I am cousins with the Kaufusis and I've known Saia for about 20 years," he said in his statement. "However, for the recruiting part, I will not and won't encourage anyone to bring their kids to Bingham High School for athletic reason or purpose as well as making any outrageous promises such as collegiate scholarships."
Bingham head coach Dave Peck said the boys were promised nothing, but because they moved into the area, he allowed them to compete for playing time like any other player.
In the Woods Cross case, Cosper said he was told by Marcus Teller that an assistant coach at Woods Cross, with whom he'd worked out with in the off-season, encouraged him to transfer to the school. That coach also denied encouraging the teen to change schools. Teller's family also moved from Kearns to Woods Cross.
Teller's mother said she moved her son because she was afraid for his safety after his jaw was broken by another student in an assault. Cosper pointed out that Teller attended a number of school functions even after transferring to Woods Cross, and he went so far as to tweet about where he'd be and when.
Still, the panel didn't find enough evidence to support the allegations of undue influence.
Cosper was disappointed but not surprised.
"What it comes down to is they're just going to believe who they believe," Cosper said. "If you read the undue influence (rule), I think there was undue influence, based on the accounts we presented. If they're not going to enforce the rule, they should get rid of it. How are you going to prove undue influence unless someone admits to it? That's really the only way to prove it."
He also pointed out that if a family moves, there is really no way to prevent athletically-related transfers.
"That's the loophole," Cosper said.
He said he brought the allegations and evidence before the panel because he felt he had to stand up for the kids who were hurt by the turmoil and transfers.
"I felt like my kids were crapped on, last year, with everything that went on, going after my job, going after the job of the other coaches," he said. "Our season was sabotaged by a coach on our coaching staff. I did this for our kids. I try to teach our kids integrity, class, character. I felt like I needed to stand up for them, and show them we do things the right way."
Two other hearings were held Tuesday, and both teens were given hardship waivers, as they involved full-family moves, as well. Jeremiah Evans transferred from Spanish Fork to American Fork, and Dallin Rodgers transferred from American Fork to Lone Peak. Both were ruled eligible to play sports immediately.