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SoCalHoops High School News

Sylmar Potentially Ineligible For Playoffs....
A Real Travesty Allowed To Occur--(Feb. 9, 2004)

It's been a long time since we've been moved to actually write a "Daily Article."   But the news we received today, that Sylmar may have to forfeit all of their wins this season, because an administrator screwed up on a form, has moved us to put fingers to keyboard.   This one is a travesty in the making, and it's one that can be corrected if the LA City Section just wakes up and does the right thing.  

But if they don't act, and do so in a timely fashion, they will simply prove what many already suspect, that the public education system, especially, LA Unified, just doesn't work any longer.  

Here's what's happening as we understand it, after speaking this afternoon with Sylmar HS head basketball coach Bort Escoto.  

Sylmar has gone 14-7 overall and 8-0 in Valley Mission League this season.  They've played all year with the same roster,  the same group of kids, and every one of their players has been, in reality, residentially eligible and academically eligible in each of the games in which any such player participated.   The Spartans have 12 seniors on the roster, and other than one transfer last season, the Spartans have had these same kids in their program for the past three or four years.  

To use Eric Sondheimer's terminology, Sylmar is a team of local kids from the same neighborhood, who have decided to play together, rather than transfer like mercenaries.  Sylmar hasn't resorted to illegal tactics to bring in players from all over.  They've simply managed to win this season with local, home-grown talent, with neighborhood kids.   And they are good this year.   Probably not contenders for a City Championship, but they won their league title outright, going 8-0.

But they may not be eligible for the playoffs this year.   They may have to forfeit six league wins, putting their record at 2-6 in league, not good enough for the playoffs.   Not unless the LA City Section does something, and does it quickly.

And if the City Section doesn't constitute an appeals committee to hear the facts of this situation immediately, someone should be fired.    Someone very high up in the LAUSD.    An administrator, an adult, a CIF-LA City Section official.   But someone clearly needs to do something about this situation.   Because if the decision of the City Section is allowed to stand,  none of these adults who preside over the City Section's athletic programs deserves to be employed. 

Here's what happened:    Each year, the LA City Section requires it's teams to submit lists of rosters to the Section office.   Technically, under the rules, these are called "eligibility rosters" and it is the responsibility of the Principal of each school to submit complete rosters to the Section, and also to make them available to every league opponent. 

Now, recognizing that mistakes happen, LA City Section enacted Rule 301-4, which provides that If there's a mistake on a form, an error, something like a player's name being omitted,  the CIF Section office is supposed to give notice to the Principal, and the Principal is supposed to be given an opportunity to correct any errors on the form in advance of the next contest,  so there isn't a problem.

But...and here's the big "but"....if the form isn't corrected, and it isn't corrected by a date set by the City Section office, and a player thereafter participates in a contest without being listed on the form, that player is deemed to be "ineligible"--even if he really was academically and residentially eligible-- and the games in which he competed are declared to be forfeited.    It doesn't matter if the school made an honest mistake, rules are rules, right?

So here's how this applies to Sylmar:  Sylmar's roster, which was timely submitted to the LA City Section and to the rest of its league opponents,   omitted the name of a 4-year varsity player.  A kid who was fully academically eligible to compete when the list was submitted.  A kid who lives in the Sylmar enrollment area.   A kid who has never been in trouble for anything.    A solid player,  and a starter on the Spartans' team, the one which ought to be the league champs.   A kid whom every coach in the league has known for years and coached against.   Not some ringer, but a good kid, a respected opponent and an admired and talented teammate.   An impact player.

The rules contained in the Orange Book (the LA City Section's version of the CIF Bylaws) suggest that this should be a "no-harm no-foul" type of situation.  Easily correctable.  Form over substance, right?

But evidently things aren't all that clear.

The LA City Section has said that the matter is "out of its hands," and that only the IAC (Interscholastic Athletics Committee, which is the functional equivalent of the CIF-SS Management Council) has the final say.

But there's one problem with the IAC:   It may not have time to meet to consider the issue before the playoffs.  

Huh?  They "don't have time?"    What are they doing that they are so busy? 

They should make time.  If they don't, fire them all.  Sue them all.  If a bunch of adults can't find the time to discuss this issue for an hour or two and reach a sensible decision,  the LA City Section ought to just shut itself down, because it will have lost sight of what it is supposed to be all about, which is the welfare of their student-athlete charges, and protecting the integrity of the game.   And in this case, Sylmar didn't cheat.   They didn't recruit a bunch of ringers.   They won all of their games fair and square.   But an administrator screwed up.

The IAC can either correct the error, or it can simply do nothing.  And if it does nothing, every coach in the City Section, every high school principal, every LAUSD employee ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Did someone screw up?  You bet.  Should someone have notified Sylmar's principal earlier?  Absolutely.

But should Sylmar have to forfeit 6 of their league wins as the result of this form-over-substance farce?  Absolutely not.

It gets worse.

Apparently it wasn't just simply a slip up with paper work which created this situation.  A league rival was apparently laying in the weeds, waiting for the final week of the season to spring this on the unsuspecting kids on the Sylmar team.  Because not only are copies of the official rosters provided to the LA City Section front-office, they are also given to all league rivals.  The intent behind providing copies to league rivals is clearly so that opponents can verify that all players appearing in games are actually eligible to compete.   If any of Sylmar's rivals spotted someone not on the official list, they clearly knew about it more than a month and a half ago.  But no one said a thing.   Subterfuge and politics at its worst.  "Sharp practice" is what we call it in the law, and it is uniformly condemned.

So, instead of timely coming forward to point out the obvious error on a form, a league rival chose to remain silent...until this week that is.

Sylmar was never notified by the LA City Section office that the form had an error.   Instead, they were informed this week that one of their league rivals (which shall go nameless for the moment) notified the City Section that Sylmar had used an ineligible player in 6 of its league games, a player whose name hadn't appeared on the official roster.    Of course, no one thought to check the roster forms, because this was a kid everyone knew about, had coached against for years.   He was a known quantity. 

[Note:  Published reports have also stated that Sylmar discovered the error and self-reported it to the City Section upon learning that the player in question had become academically ineligible following the mid-term grading period.  Sylmar sources have confirmed that the player, however, never participated in a game after becoming ineligible.]

But nobody evidently reported the error in a timely fashion.   Not a league rival, not the City Section office, and certainly not Sylmar.   Rather than point out the error, a league rival waited,  knowing that if it waited long enough, no one, not the LA City Section office, not the IAC, perhaps not even the State CIF or a judge sitting in a court of law and equity would be able to correct the error,  knowing that Sylmar's penalty would be severe and would perhaps create an opportunity for another team to slide into the playoffs.   

Sylmar was informed yesterday by Assistant LA City Section Commissioner Jeff Halpern that the Spartans will have to forfeit all of the games in which the player whose name was left off the official roster participated.  

And that happens to be 6 of their league games.    And no team we can recall has ever made it into the LA City Section playoffs, and certainly not the Championship bracket, with a league record of 2-6.    Remember, only league champions are guaranteed entry into the City Championship bracket (unless of course, it happens to be the Westchester Comets who are not eligible at all this year as a result of circumstances which, if they are to be believed, are wholly different than what occurred with Sylmar's roster form).

Can Sylmar and/or the player in question file an appeal?   Absolutely. 

But there's yet another wrinkle:   Sylmar was informed by City Section Assistant Commissioner Halpern that the matter is "out of the hands" of the City Section.  The decision must go to the IAC.    But Halpern also says the IAC may not have time to meet before the seeding committee meets on Saturday.


The IAC is legally compelled to meet,  and required to do so in a timely fashion by State CIF Bylaws.   If they don't, they run the risk that they will themselves be violating CIF Bylaws. 

The State CIF Bylaws actually require that the local section establish "a fair procedure to ensure review" of all matters affecting a school's right to participate in the playoffs.  In case the LA City Section has lost its own copy of the Bylaws, that rule can be found at State CIF Bylaw 1104.  

And when a CIF City Section administrator says "there may not be enough time to look at the issue,"  he ought to review Bylaw 1104 because he'd see that the "fair procedure" requires the Section to adopt a policy which ensures (i.e., guarantees) review "consistent with the time constraints involved." 

This means that appeals which concern the playoffs aren't to be taken lightly.  They aren't everyday, garden-variety appeals, which can leisurely await a regular monthly meeting of some committee which sits in an ivory tower.     Instead a local CIF Section such as LA City, is legally required to adopt a fair procedure which guarantees that such matters are reviewed on a timely basis, before they become moot

And if that means a group of people have to get together tomorrow, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or some evening this week, or any day prior to the Saturday seeding committee meeting, then darn it, that's what has to happen.

What can such a committee do?  Can they disregard the clerical error, and do the right thing? 

You bet.

The Orange Book, at rule 103-3,  contains a provision which gives the IAC (or a subcommittee appointed by it for this purpose) the power and authority to "set aside the effect of any CIF rule when, in their joint opinion, all of the following criteria are met:

"A.   There exists a hardship as defined by Rule 215;

"B.   The rationale of the rule being waived will not be offended or compromised;

"C.   The principle of the educational balance (over athletics) will not be offended or compromised;

"D.   The waiver will not result in a safety risk to teammates or competitors;

"E.   The waiver will not result in an unfair displacement of another student from athletic competition;

"F.   Competitive equity among competitors will not, as a result of the waiver, be skewed in fafor of the student or the student's team."

Now, let's analyze these criteria and see how they fit the facts:

A.   There exists a hardship as defined by Rule 215

A "hardship" is defined as an unforeseeable or unavoidable circumstance.  In this case, someone made an error on a form.    Was it correctable?  Absolutely.  By an administrator, but not by the students who are now being punished for the error.  Was it entirely unforeseen that Sylmar's administrators would never be notified of the error until it was too late to correct it?  Probably.   Could the problem have been avoided had everyone done their job?  Absolutely.   But remember, we're talking about whether or not, from the students' point of view, he was or was not really ineligible.  And in this case, the student met every legal criteria of eligibility for each and every game in which he played.  He was academically eligible when he played.  He was resdentially eligible too.   From the student's perspective, and from the perspective of the rest of the student-athletes on the team, this circumstance was about as unforeseen, as uncorrectable,  and as out of control as anything possibly could be. The situation is a "hardship" and it would work a miscarriage of justice and the CIF Bylaws if a waiver isn't granted.   

B.   The rationale of the rule being waived will not be offended or compromised

What is the rationale of the rule requiring schools to submit eligibility rosters to the Section and to make them available to every league opponent?  Clearly the purpose of the rule is to ensure that every player who participates on a team is, in fact  both academically eligible and residentially eligible.  The purpose of the rule isn't to penalize the unsuspecting,   to punish the innocent.  But that's exactly what's going to happen if the IAC doesn't act.   If a player was in fact eligible at the time he participated, he should not be deemed to have been ineligible simply because an adult forget to list him on a form or check off a box.  The error was not the student's, and the rest of the student-athletes on the team should not be made to suffer the consequences of someone else's clerical error.   No good purpose can possibly be served by insisting that a fiction of ineligibility be applied in this situation.   To do so results in a mockery of the rules which the CIF has striven so hard to uphold: "Victory with Honor."   Where is the honor in punishing kids who actually won their games, punishing them because an adult was careless with a form?   To uphold the effect of the rule in this case without a waiver from that ill-effect, is truly to favor form over substance.

C.   The principle of the educational balance (over athletics) will not be offended or compromised

By declaring a student who was eligible at the time he competed to have been ineligible,  how can the principles of "educational balance" possibly be served?  They can't.    And everyone with even half a brain knows this.    

D.   The waiver will not result in a safety risk to teammates or competitors

Ditto.  In this case, there is no question of "safety risk" to anyone.  

E.   The waiver will not result in an unfair displacement of another student from athletic competition

To the contrary, if the IAC waives the effect of the student's technical ineligibility by allowing relief from forfeiture, by declaring him to be what he always was, i.e., academically and residentially eligible to compete, no one gets displaced.   If the IAC or its appointed appeal subcommittee doesn't meet to grant such a waiver, then indeed, there will truly be an "unfair displacement" of students from athletic competition, because the LA City Section will be displacing the entire Sylmar team, which did nothing wrong, other than win all of its games on the basketball court.

F.  Competitive equity among competitors will not, as a result of the waiver, be skewed in favor of the student or the student's team.

Finally, competitive equity will truly be best served by looking at the results which actually took place.  A waiver from the effect of the ineligibility rule would not unduly skew competitive equity in favor of Sylmar; rather, it would just declare what should have been the case anyway, based on the reality of what took place in each of the games in which the player participated.  

In short, all of the criteria for granting a waiver from the effect of the rule set forth in the LA City Section's Orange Book, specifically rules 300 and 301, are present.   Yet if this kind of artificially imposed insanity isn't overturned by someone, then we all, as adults ought to be ashamed of ourselves.    Because when we elevate form over substance to the point that a good rule becomes absolutely silly in its application, and an absurd result occurs,  it's time to examine why we have athletics rules at all.

If the LA City Section doesn't do the right thing, they ought to hang their heads in shame.  Because a lot of innocent kids who did nothing more than play their hearts out are going to be hurt by something over which they had absolutely no control. 

And this is, after all, about the kids.

To the LA City Section, we have one last thing to say:   Do something, do the right thing, and do it now.

Because tomorrow won't be soon enough. 

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