Ben Brewer, Deseret News
MIDVALE — Scott Wooldridge moved from the spectator chairs to the participants' table with no expectations that what he said would change the fate of the Cyprus football team.
But he did hope it would offer him insight and understanding that he could share with his players who were confused and disappointed after being included in the 4A state football playoffs on Wednesday and then elminated on Friday before they ever played a down.
"I'm glad I came," said Wooldridge, who took over the Pirates' football program last year. "I got to see the process at work and see where everybody stands. I don't think I can explain it. I still don't understand why we're the one game East doesn't have to forfeit I think it's a broken process."
Wooldridge had the opportunity to voice his displeasure and ask questions — even if he wasn't satisfied with the answers — in a meeting Monday afternoon between UHSAA staff, its attorney Mark Van Wagoner and any interested 4A principals, athletic directors or football coaches.
After two hours of discussing, sometimes contentiously, the decision of a panel representing the UHSAA's board of trustees to allow East to play in the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 6, the staff took several specific concerns to those panel members in a conference call.
After hearing the concerns, the panel unanimously said it stood by its original decision issued Friday afternoon. That decision punished East for allowing an ineligible player to compete by forcing the Leopards to forfeit all but one of the seven games in which the ineligible athlete participated.
Panel members said they felt that putting East in the fourth and final playoff spot was a harsh punishment for the four violations brought to the UHSAA, but it also didn't exclude the top-ranked team from the playoffs.
"I felt it was important to ask (the panel) about some of the issues that were raised," Van Wagoner said.
Of the issues raised by the group, two were most compelling: first, that maybe the panel hadn't considered the effect allowing East to play as number four seed would have on the playoffs; second, that the region board of managers' hearings were the initial hearings for both schools, making the appeal the hearing before the executive committee and voiding the subsequent decision by the trustees.
"They said, 'No, we considered them, and we still think it's right,'" said Van Wagoner of whether the panel considered the competitive impact the change in seeding would have on other teams.
Van Wagoner said the UHSAA rarely recognizes region board of managers hearings at the first original hearing on a subject because there are often conflicts of interest in that group.
"The people most affected participated in the decision," Van Wagoner said. "We never do that. When we make a decision, we have people who cannot possibly be affected by the decision hear the case We're very careful. In this case, we didn't have a single person who represented 4A in any way."
Herriman head coach Larry Wilson attended and hoped the panel might reconsider seeding as his team, a number one seed from region 7, will now host top-ranked East on Friday if East beats Mountain View in Tuesday's play-in game in Orem.
"I don't think anybody expected them to change," Wilson said. "I think that was fairly evident. I think it certainly exposed some real flaws in the system. There were some great points brought up, some great concerns."
He said his team has been preparing for East since Friday and will look forward to Friday's playoff game at this point.
"It's like I told our kids, 'This isn't about the Herriman-East game,'" Wilson said. "It's about standing up for something you believe in. That's one of the things we teach our kids."
Timpview principal Todd McKee felt there were several reasons to revisit the final decision. He suggested postponing the playoffs until "we get it right."
He said the arguments weren't about winning, losing or seeding.
"The issue at hand is how we fundamentally do business down the road," said Mckee, who discovered his team's ineligible player when he audited the school's roster. "These to me are bigger issues — the process, the integrity of the rules, and how we operate and function as an association overall."
Like Region 6 chariman and Woods Cross principal John Haning, McKee felt the region punishment should have been affirmed by the UHSAA as it considered punishing the schools for violations, as well as the implications for other schools in the region and the state.
There was a lot of discussion about what constituted transparency and fairness, to which Van Wagoner responded, "Fair is different from transparency. Fair is in the eye of the beholder."
The UHSAA will release a written ruling on the trustees panel's decision in the next 24 hours. The playoffs will begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. with East traveling to Orem to take on Mountain View. Both teams (see related story) are donating the gate receipts from the game to local charities.
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