Politicians could make a bad situation worse

info@islandpacket.comMarch 14, 2013 

The S.C. High School League is a flawed organization, but recent prescriptions from lawmakers -- which amount to threats to amend or abolish it -- demonstrate why the legislature is more likely to create new problems than fix old ones.

The impetus for the calls for change was a difficult decision that the High School League handled exactly as it should have.

And proposals so far, including one from the league itself, surrenders decision-making to politicians or the politically connected.

Indeed, meddling from such people has distorted the story that made High School League reform a cause in the first place.

The furor erupted after Goose Creek High School football team used an ineligible player this past fall. The Gators were forced to forfeit games in which the player suited up. The school was booted from the state playoffs, ending its hopes of a second consecutive Class 4-A Division II title.

The school sicced lawyers on the league, literally attempted to make a federal case out of its ruling and was gladly championed by state legislators eager to capitalize on passions whipped up by high school football in South Carolina.

But their version of the story was propelled by irrelevant facts.

The player declared ineligible is a special-needs student who transferred into the school before the season began. His plight is a sad case that cries for an exception to High School League rules.

But Goose Creek never asked for that exception.

Contrary to assertions the school made in federal court -- where its arguments were dismissed -- the player wasn't declared ineligible because he is special needs. He was declared ineligible because he is a fifth-year senior and because Goose Creek's athletics department failed to seek a waiver of the rule that makes fifth-year seniors ineligible.

Such an appeal might have occurred to Goose Creek coaches and officials had they done their due diligence. Unfortunately, they suited up the transfer student before they had assembled his full transcript and realized he was a fifth-year senior.

Although they self-reported their transgression, they inexplicably repeated it by suiting up the ineligible player again for a second-round playoff game against Bluffton High School.

People outside Goose Creek might call that audacity. Some politicians called it opportunity.

Legislators heaped sympathies on the ineligible player and the disqualified Gators. However, they ignored what happened to Bluffton's Bobcats, who had to prepare for two opponents and who did not find out until game day whether they would travel to a second-round playoff game or host one.

Neither did legislators seem to notice the ultimate injustice -- Conway, Goose Creek's first-round opponent, should have advanced to the second round but was bounced because of the Gators' court injunction.

To the contrary, state Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, stood on the courthouse steps and blamed the High School League for the mess. Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, promised to pre-file a bill to revoke the High School League charter when the legislature convened in January.

A third senator, Republican Chip Campsen, whose coastal district includes a portion of northern Beaufort County, sponsored a bill that would place high school athletics under the state Department of Education, with a commissioner appointed by the state superintendent.

Under duress, the S.C. Athletics Administrators Association voted this past weekend to allow state legislators and business officials to form a committee to hear appeals of High School League decisions. The panel will comprise 11 members -- 10 appointed by state-level politicians, including the governor, and one by the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.

It's wrong that the eligibility of a single high school player has commanded so much attention and posturing. The wrong is compounded by a so-called solution that shifts power to the well-connected.

That would include schools that try to lawyer their way out of their mistakes or that enlist legislators who use misplaced outrage to promote half-baked, blame-shifting narratives.

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