By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
If it’s high school football playoff season in Oklahoma, you can rest assured not all of the drama will come from the gridiron.
That off-the-field drama this season belongs to Tahlequah Sequoyah, which will be sitting home instead of participating in the 3A playoffs after going 9-1.
Last year at this time, Guthrie, after blitzing the competition and going undefeated in the regular season, nearly had its season ended when it was ordered by Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) to forfeit eight games in which an ineligible player participated. It turned out to primarily be a paperwork error and the OSSAA subsequently, on appeal by Guthrie, decided to deliver a rebuke of head coach Rafe Watkins rather than punish the entire team, suspending Watkins for eight games, but allowing the Bluejays to participate in the state playoffs. Guthrie went on to win the 5A title.
The issue with Sequoyah is not as simple.
The school, an American Indian boarding school run by the Cherokee Nation, was notified by OSSAA in October that 12 of its football players, including quarterback Brayden Scott, a University of Memphis commit and the son of head coach Brent Scott, were found to be in violation of its rules regarding participation in summer camps. The players in question attended camps that were paid for by “school or other outside sources,” which is against OSSAA regulations. The infractions actually went back as far as 2009 through this season.
As a result, the Indians’ nine wins were ordered vacated, a decision they decided not to contest. However, the players were allowed to play in the team’s final two games after a restraining order was issued. The players technically remained ineligible, pending a final ruling by OSSAA which on Wednesday reinstated the eligibiligy of 11 of the 12 players – Scott was the lone player to not have his eligibility restored – but kept this year’s playoff ban in place.
Also likely weighing in on the decision was the fact this is not the school’s first, only most recent, run-in with rules violations. Earlier, the school was forced to forfeit its girls softball championship last spring due to the use of an ineligible player.
But the issue does bring up a more difficult question that has no easy answers: Is it fair to punish the kids for the mistakes (or misdeeds) of the adults? And does it serve as a future deterrent?
The kids in this instance attended a camp that, for all they knew, was perfectly legal. After all, if the coaches are sending the players to a camp, is there really any question that should be raised in the minds of the players?
No, the fault likely belongs to the coaches or others who knew how the players’ participation was being funded and therefore knew, or should have known, they were in violation of OSSAA rules.
Is the solution terminating head coach Brent Scott, who already is under suspension? That may serve as a sufficient future deterrent, especially in a situation that appears to be more egregious than last year’s Guthrie maelstrom.
Sequoyah athletic director Marcus Crittenden, who came on board just recently, said in published reports he was hopeful OSSA would reinstate the players and “hold them minimally accountable when you consider it was not their fault.”
But he left unanswered the question of who was accountable. However, it’s an answer that seems fairly obvious. This is not merely a paperwork error, but appears to be a flagrant,ongoing disregard of the rules. And a clear message neds to be sent to those who flaunted the rules and jeopardized the players’ eligibility. Heads need to roll.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.