SALT LAKE CITY — The top-ranked East High football team was punished for playing an ineligible athlete in two games this season.
Coaches did not know the junior, whose name is not being released, was ineligible, but principals in Region 6 decided that part of the punishment for the program should be that head coach Brandon Matich not be allowed to coach Friday's game against Highland High.
Woods Cross principal John Haning, who is the chairman for the region's board of managers, said the student lives in Highland's boundaries but came to East from Horizonte, the Salt Lake District's alternative school.
"They saw Horizonte and they knew he'd had a brother who played at East, so the AD (athletic director) thought, 'He's one of ours,' " said Haning. "He didn't do all of the checking he should have done to make sure."
The junior played in two games "very sparingly," said Haning.
In addition to not allowing Matich to coach Friday's game against Highland, the principals fined the school $200, wrote a letter of reprimand and took a preseason game from the program for next year. The game the school gives up cannot be an endowment game.
The vote among the principals of the region was 5-1, but Haning said the issue may be taken up by the Utah High School Activities Association next week. The principals weighed a number of issues in making the decision, including similar cases within Region 6 and how they were punished.
"Our thinking was that if they forfeit those two games, then, depending on how things go, the number one team in the state, the odds on favorite to win, would be the second or third seed from our region and have to face a top seed from another region. … We thought about how it affects the whole state. If we do this, we're punishing just the school for the mistake they made. It doesn't have consequences on other teams, other regions."
The UHSAA may get involved because the decision to punish East in this way is a deviation from other incidents in which a team played ineligible student athletes.
In two high-profile cases, the teams had to forfeit every game in which the ineligible athlete played. In both of those cases, just as in the East situation, the coaches were unaware that the players were ineligible.
Just last week, Timpview football had its 2011 region title taken and its six wins revoked for a case in which a player failed to file the correct paperwork with the state. Just four months ago, Snow Canyon's baseball team was forced to forfeit four games in which a player, who moved to Utah, was given incorrect information by an administrator. The decisions, which in both cases were made by the principals of the region and backed by the UHSAA, are considered standard punishment for playing an ineligible player, even if it's accidental.
In the case of Snow Canyon, the losses meant the Warriors had to win a play-in game just to make the playoffs after actually winning the region title. The team went on to win the state championship.
Haning said the East player remains ineligible as he's never filed hardship paperwork, which is necessary because he lives in Highland High's boundaries.
"We thought (the punishment) was something consistent with what we'd already done this year," said Haning, who represents the region on the UHSAA's executive committee. "As far as fines, it sends a clear message that we have to pay close attention to these things."