SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - The Utah High School Activities Association ruled today that the East High football team must forfeit seven of its eight victories this season for using four ineligible players.
The Leopards, the top-ranked team in 4A after compiling an 8-1 record, will miss the playoffs entirely. The Leopards must forfeit all of its wins except one against Highland, a game in which suspended head coach Brandon Match held out 12 players.
The school is planning on appealing the ruling.
"There is no doubt that forfeiture is a harsh penalty," the decision read. "Nevertheless, the Association has repeatedly affirmed and enforced such a penalty for the use of ineligible players. Indeed, the Association recognizes that most, if not all, governing organizations of sports regularly impose forfeiture of games in which ineligible players participate."
The four players in question had all transferred from other schools and the appropriate requests were not field by East athletic director Kathy Butler. While some deem this as a clerical error made by an adult that should not punish the players, the UHSAA called this a "wholesale failure" to determine the students eligibility.
"This was not a “clerical error,” in which a box was wrongly checked or a name misspelled or even a document wrongly filed," the decision said. "It was a wholesale failure to “to determine that participants have met all eligibility requirements.” There were four separate and distinct episodes in which ineligible students were matriculated as if they were, in fact, eligible."
Matich broke the news to his team this morning, and they were all devastated.
"Everyone just broke down and started sobbing," said running back Jewka Patetefa. "It's just unfair. I feel like we've been cheated out of our season."
"It's just not fair to us," added fullback Patrick Palau. "We're only high school students and we worked too hard to come to this point and have them tell us that we're done."
"I'm devastated," said Matich. "I don't think this is the right decision for kids. We're in the business for kids and not everything is so black and white. Nothing was done for blatant disregard for rules and nothing was done to gain a competitive advantage. The majority of these players are young men that don't play very much at all. East High School has as great program and we are as far from dirty as you will ever find. Our kids are innocent and this is not the right way to treat kids. They deserve the chance to finish what they started."
After 23 years at the school, Butler announced she is resigning as athletic director.
The Leopards won its first eight games of the season by an average of 37 points and were considered to be the top team in the entire state before losing to Logan last night, 51-34.
"It's not their fault," Matich said. "Kids should never be punished for something that's not their fault."