Pressure from legislators yields change
Change has come to the South Carolina High School League.
In the wake of the Goose Creek High School football saga and subsequent events, Gators football coach Chuck Reedy still can’t believe that it took this long to have a more fair disciplinary process in the SCHSL.
“It’s hard to believe the league has been in existence for 99 years, and it takes something like what happened to us in year 100 to come up with an equitable plan to deal with violations,” Reedy said.
On Saturday at its annual meetings, the members of the league approved an amendment to its constitution, establishing levels of violations and corresponding penalties rather than doling out a one-size-fits-all style of punishment for violators.
Under the former disciplinary system, a team self-reporting a minor violation was subject to the same harsh penalty as one knowingly cheating and getting caught.
“There’s a difference between speeding and killing somebody,” Reedy said.
In Goose Creek’s case this past fall, the Gators were removed from the playoffs and denied a shot at a state title repeat in Class AAAA Div. II after reporting a problem with paperwork involving a special education student in November. The student-athlete in question was then ruled ineligible by SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton and the Gators weren’t allowed to go after another crown, leading to a tale that peaked this past weekend at the annual meetings.
The player participated in a total of 17 plays during five games, including the opening playoff victory against Conway, and never entered a contest the Gators weren’t winning by at least 41 points. Two appeals in front of the league’s executive committee produced no mercy for Goose Creek and it fired up droves of people across the state.
Local legislators got involved and applied pressure on the SCHSL to make a change. Bills advanced in the state House of Representative and Senate that would place high school sports under the umbrella of the state Department of Education. Rep. Joe Daning is a co-sponsor of the House bill concerning the SCHSL.
“I’m not 100 percent happy … but we did get them to make some changes,” Daning said. “I wanted them to fix themselves.”
According to Daning, his proposed legislation will now be altered to incorporate the changes the SCHSL has offered, and would no longer place the organization under the state’s control.
“We will codify the changes they made into law,” Daning said. “Had they had these rules in place, Goose Creek would not have been eliminated from the playoffs. We may have helped some teams (in the future).”
There will now be four levels of violations: self-reported minor offense, non-reported minor violation, self-reported major violation, and non-reported major violations. Whether a team truly gained a competitive advantage will be weighed heavily from now on. Under this system, the Gators would have paid a $500 fine and been allowed to continue pursuit of their title.
“That’s about what our penalty should have been,” Reedy said. “In the future, this will prevent what happened to us from happening to somebody else. Our situation was such a high profile thing and got the attention of so many people. The threat of the state legislature doing something got everybody's attention.”
The league also approved an 11-member appellate panel that would hear appeals if a school or student-athlete was not satisfied with a ruling by the league’s executive committee. The panel will include a member from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, three current coaches or athletic directors from member schools and a representative from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
Reedy said the annual meetings were well attended.
“I’m sure it was the largest turnout, maybe ever,” he said. “Certainly there was a sense of desperation on the part of the league that we’ve got to make a change.”
Other changes were not made, though. There is still no guaranteed geographic balance on the league’s 18-member executive committee. A proposed amendment aimed at accomplishing that didn’t receive the necessary votes. As it stands now, only two of the committee members are east of Interstate 95 and south of I-20, according to Reedy.
“Half the state has two reps and the other half has 16,” Reedy said. “There is definitely some inequity there.”
The only true Lowcountry member on the committee was Goose Creek High School Principal Jimmy Huskey, who was serving on an interim basis before losing his spot as the Class AAAA representative in an election with a member from Greenwood.
“There are still some changes that can be made,” Reedy said. “I think we need it, but that’s me speaking as an individual and not me speaking on behalf of everybody else.”