Nov 01, 2011 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
A state supreme court judge this morning upheld the suspension of the Skaneateles varsity football program and refused to grant the school district an injunction that would have allowed the Lakers to play in the sectional final game this Saturday.
Declaring the suspension an appropriate penalty against the school district as determined by Section III, New York State Supreme Court Justice Brian F. DeJoseph said, “The court is well aware of the effect this has on the student athletes, [nevertheless,] the determination of the [Section III] Athletic Council is final.”
The decision leaves the Skaneateles CSD with no appeal options in Section III or in the NYS High School Athletic Association. The district can appeal to the state appellate court in Rochester.
After the hearing, Skaneateles School Superintendent Phil D’Angelo said he had called the school board president, Evan Dreyfuss, moments before, and Dreyfuss immediately began contacting every board member by telephone to poll the board on whether or not the district should seek an appeal.
“We were very disappointed by what we heard here today,” D’Angelo told reporters outside the courtroom. “We truly felt the punishment was way too severe. The athletes are being punished, not the program.”
Today’s hearing was the culmination of events that began last week after the Skaneateles CSD filed a report to Section III Athletics stating that an investigation had revealed five specific instances of illegal player recruiting and undue influence by members of the varsity football coaching staff. The Section III Athletic Council responded on Friday, Oct. 28, by suspending the Lakers from further play in the 2011 season, including the Section C semifinal game against Utica the following day.
Attorneys representing the Skaneateles CSD, including Daniel J. French, head football coach Tim Green’s attorney, as well as Green himself, went to DeJoseph’s court at 4:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, seeking a temporary injunction against the suspension to allow the team to play its semifinal game on Saturday.
DeJoseph granted the request and a hearing was scheduled for today, Tuesday, Nov. 1. The next day the Lakers beat Utica 46-27 and earned a spot in the Section III finals on Saturday, Nov. 5.
After the Friday court hearing and again on Saturday after the semifinal game, Green questioned the legitimacy of the school district report and the Section III decision. “I think everything about this has been an injustice,” Green told reporters Saturday. “When [this] is done you’re going to find that our program has done nothing wrong.”
At this morning’s hearing, attorneys Thomas W. Seeley and Dennis G. O’Hara represented the school district.
Green was not present, but his attorneys Lee Alcott and French were. In fact, only minutes before the court convened at 10 a.m., Alcott had presented a petition to DeJoseph to allow Green and other team coaches to be added as “interested parties” to the case because there were issues involved “unique to Coach Green” and affecting his employment that were not necessarily in accord with the school district.
Section III attorney John G. McGowan objected to the motion, stating that Green was not a member of Section III and “had no standing” in the case.
DeJoseph not only rejected the petition — which means that Coach Green and his attorneys have no standing in the case at all — but he also questioned Alcott about the apparent inconsistency in which, at Friday’s hearing, Alcott had represented the school district, but today he was apparently opposing the school district by representing Green and questioning the veracity of the district’s previous investigation report.
Getting to the case, school attorney Seeley argued that the penalty was too severe for the infractions alleged. The district wanted an injunction against the Section III suspension decision, which would allow the football team the right to play in the finals game on Nov. 5 and also allow the school district the necessary time to appeal the Section III decision.
“We should be given an opportunity to exhaust all remedies,” Seeley said.
Section III attorney McGowan began his argument by stating, “We have heard perhaps as much about the position of the Skaneateles school district through the media as we have in its report, and in that regard we have learned that somehow the district says they have not actually violated any rules. … With due regard to the English language, this is disingenuous parsing of the English language.”
McGowan said the district’s Oct. 24 investigation report clearly stated in multiple places that the district had uncovered rule violations. He said the Section III Athletic Council had made a unanimous decision based on the report and with due deliberation.
“We have rules, whether they like them or not,” McGowan said. “The school district now wants to get out from under the burden of a stiff penalty.”
School attorney O’Hara called the suspension “capital punishment” imposed on the school district, and said that for DeJoseph to uphold the suspension order would be “an arbitrary, capricious and abuse of discretion” by the court, and would unfairly penalize the students.
After taking 20 minutes to look over some last-minute documents given to him by the school district, DeJoseph upheld the Section III suspension decision.
He said the school district could not prove the “possibility of ultimate success” if the injunction were granted and the case was allowed to be appealed. He said he “gave great weight and judicial deference” to the Section III Athletic Council and was wary of a judicial review of an administrative decision.
“There is no dispute here that there was a violation of rule 24,” DeJoseph said, referring to the recruiting and undue influence charges against the Lakers coaching staff. He said the punishment was not excessive because the NYSHAA rules “clearly authorize” Section III to impose such penalties, which, DeJoseph pointed out, was also based on a 2010 censure of the Skaneateles football program by Section III for the playing of an ineligible player. That censure was made with a specific statement that another transgression would provoke a harsher penalty.
Finally, DeJoseph said, the school district did not prove that the suspension would cause the district irreparable harm. He made clear that it was the school district that was the petitioner in the case and not the student athletes on the football team.
“While the court remains sympathetic to the student-athletes at Skaneateles, we cannot, however, ignore the rules and the sound determination of Section III,” DeJoseph said. He said other schools and other student-athletes also have been affected by this case, but other schools who have lost games have not violated the rules.
After DeJoseph’s decision, Section III attorney McGowan said, “We thought we were right on the law, but let me say that we take no joy in taking these kids off the field.”
Section III Executive Director John Rathbun also told reporters outside the courtroom that he felt “bad” about the Lakers not being able to continue their undefeated season, but “there are rules.” He also commended the Section III Athletic Council for “doing the right thing.”
Rathbun said he would call Utica Notre Dame — the team Skaneateles beat in the semifinals last Saturday — to inform them of the situation and give them the choice of whether or not to play in the sectional final game on Saturday, Nov. 5.
Green’s attorney French told reporters after the decision that Judge DeJoseph had denied the coaches, the student-athletes and the parents the right to be heard in court. He said the entire situation was “an egregious due process violation” that offered no time to investigate the veracity or credibility of the charges against the coaches. French maintained that the report was “faulty” and there were “no violations here.”
French said that even though he and Green had no standing in the case, they would be urging the school district to appeal the judge’s ruling, and they would “offer to help the district” going forward.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.