UHSAA committee proposes changing its rules to deal with ineligible players

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 8:20 a.m. MST

East High School vs. Mountain View High School football game at Mountain View High School in Orem, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Ben Brewer, Deseret News) East High School vs. Mountain View High School football game at Mountain View High School in Orem, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Ben Brewer, Deseret News)

MIDVALE — The mercy that allowed East High's football team to participate in the 4A playoffs despite using four ineligible players will be harder to come by if proposed changes are adopted by the Utah High School Activities Association in the coming months.

The UHSAA's Constitution and By-laws Committee met Wednesday to discuss a number of changes and refinements to the organization's rules. One of the proposed changes is how teams are punished for allowing ineligible players to participate in sanctioned competitions.

The group, which includes UHSAA staff and members of both the UHSAA's Executive Committee and Board of Trustees, was unanimous in recommending the association change the language that allowed state officials discretion in deciding whether a team should be forced to forfeit contests in which ineligible players participated.

The language currently says teams found guilty of that violation "may forfeit" the game. But after looking at how other states deal with the issue, the group unanimously decided to recommend the UHSAA change the language to "shall forfeit."

"We were the only western state (although they didn't look at Montana), that doesn't require a forfeit," said Craig Hammer, chairman of the UHSAA's Executive Committee and Region 9 representative. "Every state we looked at said 'shall.'"

The fact that Utah's rules had the words "may forfeit" was not a mistake. It wasn't even an attempt at mercy, although that's how it was used in the case of East High.

It was, Hammer said, an attempt to give disciplinary panels leeway when dealing with individual sports like track, wrestling or swimming. In those situations, an ineligible player can be disqualified but the team can still compete — either as individuals or as a team.

Instead, the committee decided to recommend the state change the wording to "shall forfeit" while creating a separate section for how individual sports are handled. The difference, many felt that in individual sports, it's possible to identify exactly what an individual (athlete) contributes to a team win and take it away. That's not possible in team sports like basketball or football where contributions are more subjective.

In the case of both East and Timpview, a region panel punished them Oct. 16 for the violations, but stopped short of forcing them to forfeit games because of the impact it would have on playoff seeding as it was discovered so late in the season.

A day later, a panel of Executive Committee members then ruled that both teams had to forfeit every contest in which ineligible players were used — which dropped Timpview to a No. 3 seed and eliminated East.

Two days after that, on Oct. 19, an appeal to the Board of Trustees affirmed most of what the Executive Committee did — with the exception of making East forfeit all of its wins. Instead, it allowed East to remain in the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. It also increased East's fine and suspended the team's head coach for three games.

The BOT decision was met with praise and protests, as the controversy at times overshadowed the games.

Hammer said the group was determined to clarify language, as well as solve some of the problems created with forfeits. Imposing a loss after the fact created questions about recordkeeping and region titles, all of which the executive committee will discuss in January.

Three additional issues included:

• Training for regions on hearing procedures and which decisions regions should make and which decisions should go directly to a statewide panel.

• Streamlining and narrowing the appeals process. Instead of having an initial hearing with the region and then an appeal to the Executive Committee and another possible appeal to the Board of Trustees, now there will be a decision by the region and an appeal to a panel made up of both BOT and Executive Committee members.

"We're also working on coming up with the language that will give a basis for an appeal," said Hammer. "You can't just appeal because you don't like the answer."

Instead, there will be defined situations that warrant a second look at the case. For example, if a school contends that a student was dishonest, an appeal will be granted.

• Clarifying that fines imposed by a region are paid to the regions, while fines levied by the statewide panels are paid to the UHSAA.

In addition to the penalties for using ineligible players, the committee discussed other issues that will be presented to the Executive Committee in January. The Executive Committee will then make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. Any proposed changes to UHSAA rules will be heard by the BOT twice, and then voted on by the member schools before they're adopted.

Some of the other issues addressed were requiring the certification of all coaches, not just those who are paid; allowing schools to compete independent of a region when they are trying to establish activities and athletic programs; whether the UHSAA should tighten or change rules for foreign or boarding-school students; allowing for an exemption to the amateur rule for runners as many high school runners compete in races that include professionals. An exemption already exists for tennis and golf athletes.

"We got more done today than I ever thought we could," said Hammer. "We discussed everything from dead time to J1 and F1 transfer students. We needed to have these discussions."

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