Utah high school football coaches protest UHSAA decision to let East in playoffs

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2012 10:22 p.m. MDT

Kristin Heninger, left, and Emily Burmingham join the protest by coaches, parents and students of the recent ruling from the Utah High School Activities Association.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — Did the state panel that showed mercy to top-ranked East inadvertently punish other innocent schools?

That was the opinion of about a half dozen football coaches who gathered at Herriman High School Sunday night. In addition to coaches from Timpview, Timpanogos, Orem, Herriman, Logan and Copper Hills, players from Herriman, a few administrators and a small group of parents and players gathered in the school's parking lot to express their disappointment with Friday's decision by the board of trustees' panel to change the executive committee's decision to force East to forfeit every win in which it used an ineligible player.

That first decision, which came Thursday morning, eliminated the Leopards from the playoffs. Friday's ruling, which cannot be appealed, put East in the fourth and final playoff spot from Region 6, which means it has a Tuesday play-in game against Mountain View and a possible match-up Friday against Region 7 co-champion Herriman.

"I don't think they considered what it would do to everybody else," said Herriman principal Jim Birch, who also issued a statement in which parents indicated they may sue the UHSAA over the decision. "In my 30 years experience, I don't think I've ever seen the region champion have to play the number one team in the state in the first round. Where did that come from?"

It came from the panel's desire to punish East for breaking the UHSAA rules regarding eligibility. But the panel also felt the team's players deserved to at least make the playoffs — even if it was in last place.

But in making what amounts to a tailor-made punishment, the panel punished other teams, other players, the coaches said.

"The whole state loses," said Logan High head coach Mike Favero. "Every kid in the state of Utah loses, not only this week, but the long-lasting lingering effects of a decision that has a double standard. They'll lose faith in the exact system that's supposed to teach them transparency, leadership, accountability and trust. And everyone knows the most characteristic of a great leader is trust. And our kids will not trust the system."

Timpview was forced to forfeit all four of the games in which the T-birds played an ineligible player, but head coach Cary Whittingham didn't attend to complain about the way his team was treated.

"I don't think across the board they've made a ruling that's treating everybody the same," said Whittingham. "But that's not what I’m here for. I'm just here to support the other coaches and players that I feel are caught up in all of this that don't deserve that."

Whittingham and other coaches said they didn't think the decision was fair to Logan or Herriman because teams have an expectation of what to expect from the playoffs long before region play even gets under way. And as Timpanogos head coach Ed Larsen pointed out, those who don't understand why it's a problem don't understand competition or how successful programs are built.

"It matters how far you go in the playoffs," said Larsen. "You work your tail off to become region champs, and then, because of an arbitrary decision, you get to play arguably the best team in the state in the first round."

Orem head coach Tyler Anderson's team gets the number one seed from Region 8 because of Timpview's forfeits in two region games. His frustration was in how the panel treated East differently than Timpview.

"I agree with the coaches, it's a double standard," said Anderson. "If you're going to take all the wins away from Timpview, they've got to do it with East. That would probably be the fairest way. … To me, they both should be penalized."

He said coaches understood the punishment for using an ineligible player to be forfeiting that game.

"It's frustrating," he said. "I’m sure for everybody. Everybody's upset and frustrated."

He said the week-long debate has made it difficult for coaches to prepare as the decisions shifted seeding for this week's playoffs.

"This would have been a great opportunity for the association to say, 'If you cheat, you've got to pay the penalties.’ ”

Some argue that's what the panel did in imposing hefty fines, three years of probation and in the case of East, a three-game suspension for head coach Brandon Matich.

The group wasn't certain what the solution is, but there was a movement to petition the board of trustees to at least change the seeding back to what it would have been before the forfeits.

"Anything that offers a greater sense of fairness," said Herriman head coach Larry Wilson. "We would all have to take a look at it. I don't think we can come out and make the statements we have without looking at every option of fairness because right now, that's the thing that's lacking. Right now it's not fair. It's not equitable."

Twitter: adonsports email:adonaldson@desnews.com

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