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SoCalHoops High School News

Sylmar Redux:  First Appeal Denied,
One More Pending This Friday--(Feb. 10, 2004)

As we anticipated, the LA City Section rules committee denied Sylmar's appeal, which sought a waiver from the effects of the Section rule which requires each team to list all participating players on a team's official roster.    Those rosters are required to be submitted at the start of each season to the City Section office as well as to each league opponent. 

Sylmar's roster, through a series of clerical oversights, failed to list one of their impact players, senior guard Joe Dickson.     Following mid-term grades, issued in late January,  Dickson became academically ineligible.  Under the rules, when a player becomes academically ineligible, a school is required to report the change in eligibility to the Section offices, which Sylmar did.   It was then that the City Section learned that Dickson had not been listed on the original roster.   As a result, the Section informed Sylmar that it would have to forfeit the six league contests in which Dickson had participated prior to becoming academically ineligible, because even though he had been academically and residentially eligible in those 6 contests, he was technically ineligible because he had not been listed.

The effect of the forfeitures was to drop Sylmar's record to 2-6, rather than 8-0.  It also moved league rival Monroe, which Sylmar defeated twice this season, into the league title spot and a guaranteed berth in the City Championship bracket.

Sylmar will have one more shot at an appeal before the IAC on Friday.   If that appeal is unsuccessful,  the Spartans will go into the playoff seeding committee meeting the next day--when all coaches from the City Section meet to construct the playoff brackets for the City Championship and Invitational brackets-- with a record of 2-6,  and their chances for obtaining a good seed will be greatly diminished unless the seeding committee chooses to ignore the forfeits, which of course, it would be free to do,  instead considering the team's actual strength and their wins on the court.  The only question would then be whether without Dickson in the lineup, should Sylmar receive the same high seed it would have had with him playing.

Of course, if the IAC panel grants the waiver, and declares that Dickson was eligible, notwithstanding the clerical screwup, all of this would be much ado about nothing, and the embarrassment ought to be punishment enough for every adult responsible who had a hand in creating this mess for the kids. 

At yesterday's hearing, Sylmar's coach Bort Escoto took the brunt of the blame for the mixup with the roster, telling Daily News reporter Vincent Bonsignore that  he had informed the rules committee at yesterday's hearing that he took complete responsibility the incident.  According to today's story in the Daily News, Escoto said to the rules committee: 

"....if you want to blame someone, blame me. If you want to take my paycheck, take my paycheck.  But don't take these games away from the kids because they've worked too hard to put themselves in this position. They had nothing to do with the mistake, and they should not be penalized."

All of which, of course, is a completely noble sentiment, and from a responsibility point-of-view, also entirely accurate.  Escoto is right, the Sylmar kids do not deserve to bear the consequences of the failures of a number of adults.  And while Escoto is willing to be the fall guy,  in our view there's plenty of responsibility to be shared.  Escoto was certainly instrumental in creating the problem in the first place,  since it's his team and he is charged with the duty to sign the roster before it's submitted.    But the IAC Rules require three people to sign the roster,  and that includes the principal, the athletic director and the head coach.    Any one of them could have, and should have spotted the error.

But likewise, as we said yesterday, each of Sylmar's league opponents also received the same roster, which implicates yet another step in the process of verification.   Certainly one of them could have, and should have also spotted the error and spoken up. 

Which brings us to a point we made yesterday which seems to have created quite a stir,  i.e., the point about whether one or more league coaches also knew about the problem with Sylmar's roster, but chose to remain silent.    Clearly, no one can crawl into the head of another,  no one can claim to know what someone else actually knows.  But it is clear that each and every one of the other teams in the league received the incorrect roster, and yet not a single one of them spoke up.   Did they or didn't they know? And if they knew, should they have said something?  We'll let you all draw your own conclusions....

A few of the coaches in the league have responded on our men's message forum,  stating that they were unaware of the problem prior to Sylmar itself first learning of the problem.  Ok,  let's take that at face value.     Let's say they also failed to notice what two Sylmar administrators and Sylmar's head coach failed to notice.   Let's just assume that every adult with any   shred of responsibility for administering athletics in the City Section's Valley Mission League was completely, entirely and utterly asleep at the switch.  These are busy people, and what this really points out is that coaches are actually busy coaching.   AD's are busy being AD's, arranging schedules, bus transportation, hiring officials, and obtaining adequate security at the games.   Principals are busy just trying to keep up with their jobs too, trying to balance school budgets, manage school security, keep guns and drugs off campus, just trying to run the place.    What this really points out is that other than the technical requirement of submitting these eligibility rosters to the Section office, no one out in the trenches so to speak pays attention to them at all.   Why?  Because the eligibility rosters are, in real terms, not relevant when it comes to the process of actually administering and playing the games during the season.   More importantly, as long as a player is really and truly academically and residentially eligible at the time he competes,  a failure to list him should be considered a correctable error, much the same as any wrong call during a game made by a ref before the contest ends.    But as we learned yesterday from the denial of Sylmar's appeal, it's not a correctable error, at least not according to the Rules Committee.

If all of this didn't involve a group of kids who had nothing to do with filing forms or filling out paperwork it would probably be funny, in a dark humor sort of way.  Comically hysterical.   A pointed satire about a bloated school district and an inept bureaucracy,  about the inability of administrators to bend even the slightest in the application of petty rules,  in the face of a reality where everyone involved, and we mean everyone,  never even bothers to look at the paperwork because in the real world it has no real purpose.    Indeed, if all of this wasn't so pathetically sad from the kids' perspective,   it probably would be funny.

But it's not funny.    Not to the Sylmar kids.   And the decision yesterday, upholding the forfeiture is even less humorous. 

Of course Sylmar itself bears the ultimate responsibility to insure that its own roster is correct.   That's elemental.   Heck, coaches are required to verify rosters before the start of each game.   We all know what happens if a player not listed on a game book roster enters a game, so how hard would it have been to check the official roster before each contest?

But more importantly, what is the real point of sanctioning kids who had no responsibility for doing the paperwork, months after the fact?  One coach, a former local high school coach who is now a college coach, sent us an e-mail yesterday after reading about this situation, and he suggested that once a game is over,   challenges based on eligibility should never be allowed.  If an opposing coach doesn't object to a player participating at game time, i.e., before the contest, then the objection should never be heard,  because that's why rosters of opposing teams are submitted to league opponents.   While that's not a bad suggestion,  unfortunately, it's not the IAC rule,  and it doesn't really help resolve Sylmar's dilemma.  

A few people also accused us of "finger-pointing" yesterday.   Ok, fire away.   While Escoto is willing to be the fall-guy,  in our view, there's plenty of blame to go around, from each and every administrator at Sylmar who contributed to creating the mess,  to all each of the league coaches who failed to point out the problem after being supplied with Sylmar's roster,  and to the City Rules Committee for denying yesterday's appeal.

Some have also said that we implied the other league coaches were trying to gain an unfair advantage.   Maybe, maybe not.  One can make a case either way, and no one will ever really know for a certainty what any of these league coaches actually knew.    All we can do is look at the objective evidence and draw whatever inferences are reasonable.   Some have even said that since Sylmar bears responsibility ultimately for supplying a correct roster, it's not even relevant to raise the question of whether or not other league coach were aware of the problem.    Perhaps that all depends on whom you ask.  

If you were to ask the Sylmar kids who is responsible for this situation, they probably don't really care.   All they know is that they went 8-0.  All they want to is be able to say they are league champions,  headed for a guaranteed spot in the Championship bracket.   

They may get that chance, or they may not.  It all depends how things turn out at Friday's appeal hearing.

After that,  it will be up to the City Section's basketball coaches, all of whom will get together Saturday morning to constitute themselves as a tournament seeding committee to decide whether Sylmar is a 2-6 team or an 8-0 team, or something in between.

We're hoping that just once, some adult comes to his senses and does the right thing.  

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