Notes, quotes and anecdotes on the eligibility case of the Washington High School football player and the team's forfeiture of games.
First, the background. Washington had to forfeit five victories for using Quorteze Levy, a senior receiver-defensive back who was in his fifth year of high school. PIAA and WPIAL rules state that a student can only participate in four continuous years (eight semesters) of athletics once he begins ninth grade.
Levy attended ninth grade at a school in Michigan. He then transferred to Washington but had to repeat ninth grade because of academic problems. He also had family problems in Michigan. Levy played freshman football and then continued on with his career. He is now a senior, but in his fifth year of high school. Washington school officials did not realize Levy was in his fifth year of until a guidance counselor caught it last week.
Washington turned itself in to the WPIAL, but the school asked for a hardship waiver to grant Levy (pictured) a fifth year of eligibility. The WPIAL board of control had a hearing Monday and granted Levy eligibility for all sports, but only starting Monday. The league did not grant the eligibility retroactively to the start of the school year. The league said Levy was ineligible when he played, so Washington had to forfeit the five wins. PIAA and WPIAL rules clearly state a team must forfeit any games where an ineligible player was used.
Washington actually has to forfeit six games overall but the sixth is because of an eligibility issue concerning Zach Blystone, who transferred from Charleroi.
But back to the Levy case. Washington is appealing the ruling to the PIAA and the PIAA will have a hearing this afternoon (via conference call) with Levy and Washington school officials. Personally, I believe - right or wrong - the PIAA will overturn the WPIAL and grant Levy an extra year of eligibility, retroactive to the start of the school year. Then Washington won't have to forfeit games and will go to the WPIAL playoffs. But that's just a personal feeling I have.
One other note. Levy is not over the PIAA age limit. He is 18. A student is only ineligible under the age rule if he is 19 before July 1 of his senior year.
Washington athletic director Joe Nicolella took blame for the oversight on Levy's eligibility. Here are some of his comments:
"I don't know how we missed his freshman year at Michigan, but we missed it. It didn't show up with us over the past few years because there were no red flags in his file. He never failed any classes here. He was never a disciplinary problem. There was no reason to go back in his files and have some intervention because he never was a problem.
"The error was discovered last week via a senior interview with a guidance counselor."
As for why the fifth year was never caught, Nicolella said, "There is a protocol in place here, but that protocol certainly needs to be addressed and tweaked."
Nicolella insisted Levy and his family weren't trying to hide his fifth year. They simply thought he was OK because he didn't participate in any sports when he was a freshman at Michigan.
"There was no intent whatsoever by the family to conceal anything. ... When kids transfer, counting semesters is sometimes problematic because some schools do things a different way.
"It was just a mistake that occurred and I don't know how it occurred. We have to now address it."
Nicolella insisted nobody at Washington was trying to hide Levy's situation.
"It has been an extremely hard, gut-wrenching time. I'm crushing myself," Nicolella said.
Over the years, there have been similar cases to the Washington one.
*** In 2000, the Riverside football team was 5-3 and fighting for a playoff spot when it discovered it also was using a player who was in his fifth year of high school. Joe Nye repeated 10th grade and Riverside athletic director Ken Scott said he never caught it on paperwork because Nye didn't play football until 11th grade. Riverside had to forfeit three games and the losses knocked the Panthers out of playoff contention.
Riverside never appealed the case to the WPIAL.
**** In 2002, the Farrell boys basketball team had a 13-6 overall record and a 7-1 section mark. But in late January, Farrell had to forfeit all of its wins because it was discovered the school was using an ineligible player. Iren Rainey was averaging 16.5 points a game when it was discovered he did not meet eligibility requirements after transferring from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
Farrell missed out on the playoffs because of the forfeits.
**** In 2009, the WPIAL ruled Center had to forfeit three tack meet victories for using an ineligible runner, Roman Scott. The losses would have kept Center out of the playoffs. But the PIAA overturned the WPIAL and Center was allowed to go to the playoffs.
But this case is somewhat different than the Washington case in that the Center athlete was ineligible because Center did not file proper paperwork to the WPIAL after Scott transferred from the state of California. He was only in his fourth year of high school
**** If Washington loses its appeal to the PIAA, will the school take the case to court? That is a big question. In 1979, the Penn Hills football team was three-time defending WPIAL champs. The Indians were a mini-dynasty. But it was found that the team used an ineligible player, who was not a starter, and had to forfeit three victories. The PIAA upheld the WPIAL in the ruling. Like the Washington case, the Penn Hills ineligible player was discovered by a guidance counselor.
But Penn Hills took the case to court. The WPIAL actually had to delay its Class AAA playoffs by a week while the case was decided in court. Common Pleas Judge Nicholas Papadakos eventually ruled in favor of Penn Hills. Although he said Penn Hills was an error and had to return any net proceeds from the playoffs, he ruled Penn Hills should be allowed in the playoffs.
Penn Hills went on to win the championship. After the season, the WPIAL and PIAA won an appeal with another judge. The WPIAL then vacated that championship. To this day, Penn Hills is not listed on the WPIAL's list of 1979 champs.
Put it all together and it will be interesting to see what the PIAA rules today. Check this blog and "breaking news" on the Post-Gazette web site for the story.