Players pay when rules not followed

If you thought the Whitehall High School football coaching situation was an ill-timed mess, how abou

If you thought the Whitehall High School football coaching situation was an ill-timed mess, how about the massive migraine that pulsated out of Section V in Rochester this week?

Among the wreckage that was left behind from a state Supreme Court hearing on Friday was a Class AA state champion and section champ eight times running that had to forfeit a quarterfinal win for using an ineligible player and was denied a reversal.

Three teams were left blowing in the wind all week, and one of the most highly recruited junior quarterbacks in the country, Aquinas Institute’s Jake Zembiec, was at the center of the controversy.

Aquinas sued Section V and the NYSPHSAA, but judge J. Scott Odorisi upheld the forfeit, telling Aquinas that it should’ve done more to ensure that it was following the letter of the law.

As sad as it is to see a high school football game adjudicated in state Supreme Court, the judge made the right call all the way here.

The Aquinas players, who should’ve been playing against Rush-Henrietta in the semifinals on Saturday and dreaming of a ninth straight section championship, are paying the heaviest price.

As cautionary tales go, this one should hit every coach, athletic director and administrator in the state over the head to remind them that interscholastic sports are all about the kids, and every time they get sloppy with the rules, the potential for this kind of lousy outcome exists.

At the root of the Aquinas controversy is the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s “representation rule,” 25(a) in the Bylaws and Eligibility Standards section of the NYPHSAA handbook.

For football, a player must have played three games in the regular season to be eligible for the postseason, and Zembiec played in only the first two before leading the state seventh-ranked Little Irish to a quarterfinal win over Pittsford last week.

Zembiec was medically cleared to play in a third game, the regular-season finale against Saint Francis, but coach Chris Battaglia chose to have him on the sideline in sweats and a jersey with no pads to rest the non-throwing wrist that he broke in the second game of the season.

The lawsuit ultimately boiled down to semantic interpretation of whether “eligible participant” was defined by the medical clearance, or by a broader set of rules, including the national high school federation’s requirement that a player needs to be in pads and helmet to be eligible for participation.

Aquinas didn’t help its case by producing a letter of clearance from Zembiec’s doctor that post-dated the last regular-season game.

This all could’ve been solved quite easily by having Zembiec, who “participated” in the opening coin toss against Saint Francis, in pads and helmet for that game, and then just keeping him on the sideline to protect his wrist.

Then Aquinas would’ve been playing No. 2-seeded Rush-Henrietta on Saturday. Instead, it was the team the Little Irish beat in the quarterfinals, No. 6 Pittsford, who had to practice all week not knowing whether they would even play. For their part, Rush-Henrietta had to prepare while not knowing who their opponent would be.

As these things frequently come to light, it started with an anonymous phone call on Monday alerting the NYSPHSAA to the fact that Zembiec was ineligible to play against Pittsford in sectionals because he wasn’t dressed for the Saint Francis regular-season finale.

Aquinas’ success over the years, in general, and Zembiec’s high profile, certainly have bred some jealousy, to hear Zembiec’s father, Tom, tell it to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Public/private school friction may have been a component, too.

Zembiec will be OK.

According to the NCSA­ recruiting website, the first sophomore ever to be named New York state player of the year is being courted by some of the biggest Division I programs in the country.

They’ll just have fewer game tapes to consider, because of poor communication and poor due diligence by the people running things.


Tip o’ the hat to the reader who emailed questioning my clumsy (and incorrect) use of the word “lifespan” in last Friday’s (10/24) column.

Instead of referring to “the lifespan of a college freshman”, a proper way to make the point would’ve been to say that a typical college freshman is 18, which is equal in years to the University of North Carolina’s academic scandal.

Come to think of it, that’s still really clumsy.

So … English language 2, Me 0.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply