Those unprecedented sanctions the LHSAA imposed on McKinley High School are still sinking in for many folks.
As they do, a key question emerges: What comes next for McKinley and the LHSAA?
Whatever does happen next needs to involve some TLC. And by TLC, I am referring to tough love that is tempered by some compassion.
There were more than 150 infractions, many of which involved record-keeping and issues submitting required information to the LHSAA in a timely manner. The entire McKinley coaching staff is suspended from coaching at an LHSAA school for one calendar year and there is a two-year playoff ban for all sports.
It is a perfect recipe for devastation. New Principal Esrom Pitre and interim athletic director/head football coach Robert Signater started picking up the pieces Thursday and will begin interviewing candidates for eight vacant coaching spots Monday. There is a meeting for parents/students also Monday.
I expect the school to appeal the fine of nearly $42,000 and that two-year playoff ban.
Here's where the compassion comes in. The playoff ban needs to be reduced or perhaps rescinded. These violations fall squarely on the adults at the school in 2017-18. Students should not pay for adult mistakes.
Though the media has not been given a full list of the violations, I have been told none of them involve illegal recruiting, financial inducements or the other "egregious" infractions. Student-athletes who are eligible under LHSAA rules should have the right to a postseason if they earn it.
This situation seems much like the SMU football death penalty in the 1980s. The LHSAA is not the NCAA and McKinley is not a college. There are different resources and protocols.
The LHSAA has a tough balancing act. It has to be the enforcer, but the LHSAA’s other mission is to provide the best experience for student athletes.
I get the frustration the LHSAA staff feels. They work hard, but get accused of vacillating between throwing some new rule against a wall to see how it sticks and then sticking it to schools.
The worst fear for McKinley is that incoming freshmen will quickly withdraw and go to other schools. The punitive part for current McKinley student-athletes is that they likely cannot transfer to another LHSAA school. Those transfers would be deemed moves to create athletic eligibility.
The parameters were somewhat different last summer when the Southern Lab football program was sanctioned. Those players could not transfer, either. The Kittens’ two-year playoff ban was reduced to one.
Think the compassion should end there? Maybe. The suspended McKinley coaches have between five and 21 years of experience. None of them have had serious LHSAA issues before.
They have earned praise by colleagues and college recruiters for work with their teams. They should get a chance to coach again.
The first call I got the morning after the ruling was from a person who has seen all sides of the LHSAA system. “You know there are schools running to check their folders and everything they have on file. If they didn’t, maybe they should," I was told.
My thoughts exactly.
An in-depth investigation like the one at McKinley is not something the LHSAA can do with all schools. It took several weeks and the time of multiple people to review documentation for more than 300 athletes.
The revelation that transfer students played in junior varsity games stings, but it should not be shocking. It is an LHSAA violation, but it happens and has for years.
Don’t believe me? A nonfaculty coach at another school told me last year that if a transfer was not eligible, he could get experience on the junior varsity team. I told him to check on that. He called later to thank me.
Tough times. And the chance for tough love and maybe compassion. We’ll have to see.