St. Patrick & NJSIAA Heading To Civil Court
Just let them play!
by Franklyn Calle
By now you’ve probably heard about it. St. Patrick HS in Elizabeth, NJ, one of the best HS programs in the nation (featuring Duke-bound senior guard Kyrie Irving (right) and top ranked junior Michael Gilchrist), has been accused of breaking offseason workout regulations and as a result will not be allowed to participate in this year’s boys state basketball tournament as well as be on probation for two seasons. In addition, the NJSIAA (New Jersey State Interscholastic Association) executive committee suspended head coach Kevin Boyle for three games.
According to reports, former NBA player Chris Washburn prompted the NJSIAA into investigating St. Patrick after calling the NJSIAA’s executive director Steve Timko in September over concerns about the possibility of his two sons having been recruited to St Patrick over the summer. His two sons, Julian and Christopher, had transferred to the Jersey school during the summer, although neither one played in a game. They eventually returned to Duncanville HS in Texas, where they played the previous season.
Investigator Patrick J. Reilly was hired by the NJSIAA to look into the alleged recruiting violations and made his way inside the school’s gymnasium for open gym workouts on various occasions, videotaping six of them in October. But his work didn’t just involve the athletic activities on schools grounds. He also reportedly followed players home to verify their addresses.
Now let me just very quickly explain what these open gym workouts are for those not too familiar with how things run at the high school level. During the month of October, which is when the evaluation period begins, high school coaches allow for college coaches to come in and take a close look at their players. They do drills and run scrimmages. Now according to the NJSIAA, this open gym workouts are completely fine and legal with them. But that is as long as the coach is not present or inside the gymnasium throughout the session. So in other words, if Boyle had been standing outside the gym during these workouts, then no rules would have been broken. It’s believed that by the coach being inside the gymnasium, it then makes it more into a practice session and gives the team an unfair advantage.
I’ll let America in on a little secret. Every high team that is descent at the least PRACTICES OR HOLDS WORKOUTS during the offseason. No questions asked! Actually, anybody that’s been around the high school game will tell you that it’s far from a secret. Why do you think when November comes around, teams are already running all different types of offensive and defensive sets with ease? When I was in high school, I actually thought it was legal just because of how regularly I saw its occurrence. Whether it is in their school gym, in elementary/junior high gymnasiums or parks around the neighborhood, I’ve seen high school teams sneak in practices or “workouts” regularly. It’s nothing new. So if the NJSIAA is trying to claim that St. Pats had an unfair advantage, they need to quit it. They know very well that’s not the case because just about every high school with a descent team gets their share of preparation in during the offseason. The AAU/grassroots season finishes at the end of July and most high schools aren’t allowed to practice until the official start of their season which usually is sometime at the end of October or early November. In St. Pats case, their season officially began on November 27th (that’s the latest start I’ve heard to date). Now, you go ahead and do the math as to what these student-athletes possibly do during these three months until their school season begins. The Star Ledger ran a great story a couple of weeks back, in which coaches admitted that the open gym rule was being “skirted across the state” while others decided not to comment on the matter in “fear of igniting suspicion with the state athletic association.”
Now, say Boyle (below, left) is guilty of breaking the offseason open gym rules. What continues to bother and confuse me is why are these kids being held accountable? I find it astonishing how student-athletes are always punished for the transgressions of adults. The St. Pats players were simply playing in front of college coaches, as they were told to do so by the coaching staff. So what exactly did they do wrong? How did they know something “illegal” was taking place?
And for those of you that follow college basketball, you would know is the same old story across campuses. A coach is found with some recruiting violations and next thing you know the team is banned from postseason play, scholarships are cut and seasons are vacated. Does Memphis or USC ring a bell to anyone? Why are the players deprived from postseason action due to the misdeeds of their coaches? Shouldn’t the adults be taking responsibility here and be the ones held accountable?
It’s sad to see that the NJSIAA took on this matter as if it was some type of criminal case. Having an investigator follow these kids home is inexcusable and flat-out unnecessary. It was supposed to be an investigation about whether any recruiting violations had been taking place at the school, and none were found. So the NJSIAA goes ahead and finds something else to nail them with. In my opinion, it sort of seems as if they wanted to make an example out of Boyle and the St. Patrick program. But in a few days, the tables might turn on the committee when they go to court facing a lawsuit for violating the civil and constitutional rights of the players when they were secretly videotaped at the school workouts and followed home.
St. Pats hopes to have the court overturn the committee’s decision to ban the boys basketball team from the state tournament. The injunction was first scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. but has been moved to Monday at 9 a.m. due to the snow storm affecting the NY-NJ area. The Celtics have won the State championship in three of the last four years, including last season.
So my message to the NJSIAA and those at the federal courts in Newark is: LET THE KIDS PLAY! Matters between adults should be resolved between adults. Leave the student-athletes out of it. For those of you that wonder why do a lot of these student-athletes take money from agents or other influences, take a lot around at the powers that be and examine closely the exploitations and unfair rulings that occur on the regular basis at the high school and collegiate level, and tell me that these kids are doing the wrong thing by looking out for their own well-being! The current system has to change for the better of the game and those involved.