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UHSAA ruling: East High forced to forfeit seven games, eliminated from high school playoffs

Appeal could be heard this weekend

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 2:18 p.m. MDT

East High School football coach Brandon Matich speaks to a reporter at the school in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Top-ranked East High School's football team will be forced to forfeit seven games this season, including four of its five region contests, after they played four ineligible players.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The boys sat around a table, shoulder-to-shoulder, choking back sobs as they tried to explain what they don't really even understand.

The senior captains of the East High football team were so heartbroken and confused in the wake of a decision by five members of the Utah High School Activities Association's executive committee to force the top-ranked 4A team to forfeit seven games, including four of five region contests. The 3-2 decision, which was announced Thursday morning, means East, now 1-4 in Region 6, will not qualify for the playoffs while Cyprus, now 2-3 in region play, will be awarded the fourth and final playoff spot.

The boys were informed of the decision just after 10 a.m. Thursday by their equally devastated head coach Brandon Matich.

"Football is everything to us," said East senior captain Patrick Palau, who has committed to play linebacker for BYU after serving a mission. "I don't think anybody recognizes how much hard work we've put into this season, since last November … We just want to play. We want a fair chance."

East principal Paul Sagers said he felt like a heavyweight fighter who'd been knocked down but not out. He immediately appealed the decision and will plead with the a panel representing the UHSAA's Board of Trustees on Friday morning at 10 a.m.

"I don't want to stop fighting until my last breath," he said.

Sagers and East received support from the Salt Lake City School District on Thursday.

"It is unfortunate that today's UHSAA decision has such a drastic impact on players who did nothing wrong," the statement said. "This issue has never been about creating a competitive advantage on the field or mistakes made by the students and their families. It has always centered on errors made in establishing eligibility."

The BOT panel will also hear an appeal of a Timpview case, which was heard after the East case on Wednesday morning. In that case, the T-birds also used an ineligible player, a student who'd moved to Utah from Hawaii last January. He apparently checked the wrong box on his eligibility form, which didn't alert administrators to the fact that he needed to fill out hardship transfer paperwork.

Timpview was forced to forfeit three games, one of which is their region game against Mountain View. Timpview administrators are not appealing that decision but Salem Hill officials are because if Mountain View is given the win, it will eliminate Salem Hills from the playoffs. That hearing begins at 9:30, while the East hearing is schedule for 10 a.m.

The panel struggled mightily with the complicated case, in large part, because no one believed the coach or players were at fault or had acted with intent to deceive.

"This is as difficult a thing as I have ever done," said executive committee chairman Craig Hammer. "It was hard for everybody on the committee; there was nothing easy about it. This was four and a half hours of trying to solve a problem."

He said he doesn't know if rule changes or recommendations to school will occur in the wake of the decision.

"As an executive committee, I'm sure we'll have a lengthy discussion about it," Hammer said. "Especially the importance of having checks and balances, and having more than one set of eyes approve things."

He said the group grappled with any and all possible penalties, but in the end, they said it came down to one critical fact.

"Ultimately (East) is responsible for the eligibility of their kids," he said. "After four and a half hours, that's what it came down to. And to protect the integrity of the rules, of the association and of all of the other schools involved, we arrived at that decision."

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