Friday, October 19, 2012

Let East Play


What are high school sports for?

I recently watched a TED video (TED.com) featuring Seth Godin speaking about the purpose of schools. He talks about why standardized tests are a failure of schools and learning. He talks about teachers who act as if school exists purely for the sake of teaching obedience to rules.

Fresh off watching that video, I was shocked (and by that I mean not shocked in the least bit) when I read, "[T]o protect the integrity of the rules, of the association and of all of the other schools involved, we arrived at that decision," my heart sunk. Craig Hammer is the executive committee chairman for the UHSAA hearing about East High School's football team, and he uttered those sad words. The Leopards had ineligible players on its team, and the team got caught. Punishments for violations like this vary, but the reasons given have never been as clearly stated as Hammer did yesterday. The team didn't forfeit the wins because it cheated. It didn't lose out on the number one seed in the state tournament because they broke the rules. They lose out on those things because a governing body chose to "protect the integrity of the rules."

I won't wax poetic on the place of high school sports in America. I won't claim that high school sports saved my life from utter despair. It didn't. What I don't like is that the ruling came down because the rules were more important than the individuals.

The individual responsible for making sure players were eligible has resigned after more than two decades of holding her post.

Should a team be held responsible if one player breaks the rules? Well, yes. The other principals from the team's region came to its own decision earlier in the week. They suspended the coach and fined the school. They didn't ask for games to be forfeited. They didn't end the season. That group of principals included a former football coach and athletic director for the school he is the principal of (John Haning at Woods Cross). So a former coach who has dealt with the UHSAA rules on this type of thing before came together with other principals in his region and gave what they felt was a fair punishment to a rival school. They could have taken the same route as the UHSAA, and it would have been seen as a power play by the teams who wanted a better seed in the tournament. They didn't do that, though. They, the schools who had lost to the infringing team, didn't kick out the cheaters. They held the coach and school, not the players, responsible.

Maybe they came to that decision because East would have likely been the best in the state without breaking the rules. That's not the point, though. Rules were broken by individuals. A player who shouldn't have played, played. The UHSAA uncovered its iron fist. Yes, the UHSAA has the final say. Yes, they should have taken the principals' decision into consideration more than they did. The rules are not there for the sake of having rules. The rules are there to protect individuals from abusive practices. This wasn't blatant disregard for abuse, according to the sanctions of the principals. It was, according to the UHSAA.

While my alma mater would benefit from East not being in the tournament, the ruling is too harsh. While my neighbors' sons playing for my old rival would benefit from East not being in the tournament, the ruling was too harsh. While the UHSAA has the power to enforce its rules as it chooses, the ruling was too harsh.

Let East play.

Disclosures: I graduated from Woods Cross High School. I live in Bountiful High School territory. I knew Brandon Matich while he coached at Park City High School where I called the football games for Park City Television. My grandparents graduated from East High School. As far as I am aware, that covers all the bases in case anyone wants to accuse me of a bias on my opinions!