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Amy Donaldson: In wake of the UHSAA ruling we learn, life isn't fair, and mercy may be elusive

Published: Monday, Oct. 22 2012 1:02 a.m. MDT

Father and son, Hopate Tolutau and Ula Tolutau, cry after learning that the UHSAA ruled that East High can compete in the playoffs at East High School in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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"I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."

--Abraham Lincoln

Let's start this difficult conversation by establishing one very important reality: Life isn't fair.

In fact, it's inherently unfair.

And as difficult as that is for us to accept at times, it's a much more difficult concept to teach. Explaining to someone else that life's injustices are actually opportunities and blessings makes one seem like an insensitive jerk.

Also, if we just accepted life's inequities, we'd never change unjust situations. Our innate response to unfairness is to protest.

Sometimes that is helpful, and sometimes that is crippling.

In the wake of a decision regarding the top two 4A football teams' use of ineligible players, I thought answering a few key questions would be helpful in analyzing if this is a situation that requires protest, or if it's simply one of those situations that allows us the chance to take a path we never would have chosen for ourselves.

1. Did East and Timpview violate any rules of the Utah High School Activities Association?

Yes.

2. What rule was violated and how?

In both cases, East and Timpview violated the eligibility rule by playing an ineligible player in a contest. Timpview played one ineligible player in four contests, while East used four ineligible athletes, one of which played in every game except one.

3. Who was at fault in violating the rules?

This is more complicated than it seems, as different schools determine eligibility differently. But under the UHSAA rules, principals are charged with the responsibility of deciding who is or isn't eligible and submitting that list to the UHSAA.

"This list must be certified by the principal and submitted to the UHSAA prior to or as per established dates," the UHSAA handbook states. "In doing so, the principal is certifying that those students whose names are listed meet all of the requirements and are eligible under the Constitution and By-Laws of this Association."

4. What do the rules provide as a punishment or remedy for violating the eligibility rule?

There are seven penalties for violating the rules of the association, and one of those is forfeiture of contests and titles. In fact, the only violation that explicitly can require forfeiture is using an ineligible player.

5. Who imposes the punishment?

By rule, each region's board of managers first deals with issues that arise from region play. In both of these cases, the board of managers imposed penalties that DID NOT include forfeiting any games. All disciplinary action taken by a region must be reviewed by the UHSAA's executive committee, which has the power to affirm, reject or change penalties. That occurred in a hearing on Wednesday, and that panel voted 3-2 to force both teams to forfeit all games in question. That eliminated East from the playoffs and dropped Timpview from a No. 1 seed to a No. 3 seed.

East, Timpview, Salem Hills and Springville all appealed the decision to the UHSAA's Board of Trustees, asking for a penalty less severe than forfeits. That five-member panel imposed new sanctions. Timpview was required to forfeit all four games in question, while East forfeited only six of the seven, allowing them to make the playoffs in the fourth and final spot from Region 6.

6. If East and Timpview had the same violation, why isn't the penalty the same?

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