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Saturday, July 29, 2017: Some good and bad work behind the H.S. scenes

   Leading off today: The decision by Bishop Timon-St. Jude officials to cancel a scheduled game in Texas has indirectly offered a glimpse into aspects of big-time high school football, courtesy of a California newspaper.

   And some of it ain't good.

   A story last week by the Lompoc (Calif.) Record documented a local coach's unsuccessful effort to fill the opening on Odessa Permian's schedule created when Timon canceled out of what would have been its second annual trip to Texas this September.

   Along the way it became a crash course in dollars and cents and a cautionary tale about doing business with people not directly associated with school districts and their athletic departments.

   First, some quick background:

   As we've chronicled, Bishop Timon was thrown into chaos this month. The administration's decision to not retain the school principal led to the resignation of AD and football coach Charlie Comerford. A year ago, Comerford beefed up the Timon schedule by booking games in Ohio and Georgia as well as vs. Odessa (Texas) Permian, the school made famous in the book-turned-movie-turned-TV series "Friday Night Lights."

   With the football program coming apart at the seams minus Comerford, Timon canceled its out-of-state games for 2017. That left Permian officials uncertain about whether they would fill the hole in their schedule, and that's where the California newspaper picked up the story.

   Lompoc High coach Andrew Jones says a promoter named Brian Hercules, who has been the matchmaker for other schools' interstate games in the past, contacted him with the chance to take on the storied Texas team. Lompoc already had a game scheduled for the fourth weekend in September, but the opportunity to play in 19,300-seat Ratliff Stadium (photo here) against that particular team was intriguing. So he went down the path of both planning to fly his team to the game and finding a replacement opponent for Righetti High, Lompoc's previously scheduled opponent for Sept. 22.

   By the coach's calculations, Lompoc's athletic department and boosters would need about $18,000 to fly 50 players into Dallas, put them up in a hotel and pay for meals, and Hercules said he would need a $500 service fee. Hercules told Jones that Permian would write his school a $10,000 check for its troubles.

   The proposed deal fell apart once Jones, nervous about the lack of a contract, started digging deeper this month to make sure he knew what Lompoc was getting itself into.

   "Brian Hercules owns this sports management program that does out-of-state games," Jones told the newspaper. "His reputation, after doing a lot of research, is that he's done some good games and he's done things where there are some bad articles about him in the press."

   One of those articles reported that a Daytona Beach, Fla., school found itself on the wrong end of a $15,000 tab for a 2015 game in Ohio and that multiple other schools reported bad experiences with Hercules, formerly a high school AD in Bellevue, Wash.

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   Despite the concerns, Jones was still considering going forward with plans until one final phone call with Hercules that was supposed to confirm the contracts were ready to be signed.

   "He goes, 'Hey, everything is set except for the location of the game and the opponent,'" Jones said. "So, I'm like, 'What? Are you kidding me?'"

   Jones said Hercules then indicated Permian had opted to keep its bye on Sept. 22 but Lompoc could instead travel to play Buford, the Georgia school that Timon had also dropped from the schedule.

   "That deal in Atlanta would be about $12,000 or $15,000 out of our pocket," Jones said. "That was not part of the deal. I feel like a complete moron after I didn't do my due diligence and ask around about this guy."

   Enough was enough, and Jones did what he should have done on Day 1 -- get on the phone with Permian coach Blake Feldt. He said Feldt told him Lompoc was suggested to Permian but that nothing even remotely close to a deal had been worked out.

  
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   (An aside: The Permian coach told Jones the specifics of the alleged contract were pure fiction. However, I've been told before that a visiting team's $10,000 guarantee is more or less the going rate for games at Permian's stadium.)

   (Another aside: Word has it that Permian has sent Timon a bill -- with the school routinely grossing $80K or more at the box office alone for home games, the sum is bigger than a bread box but smaller than the White House -- for breaking the contract.)

   On the other hand ... If the above is a sign of what can go wrong in the world of high school sports, something that transpired at the annual NYSPHSAA meeting this week was a case study in making sure that athletes would not become inadvertent victims as a result of what should be entirely a change for the good.

   Next January, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association will hold its first


dual-meet wrestling championships, an event that's going to generate a lot of excitement at Onondaga Community College. Sections that did not already conduct their own dual-meet tourna- ments during the season will now do so in order to determine their large- and small-school represent- atives for the state meet.

   Section 1 has already been conducting its own dual-meet tourney in the first week of December as a kickoff to the wrestling season. As such, it's entirely possible that first- and second-round matches are the first competitions of the season for the teams and individuals.

   That was no big deal in the past. But now that the Section 1 tournament serves as the qualifier for the new state tournament, the NYSPHSAA's "representation rule" kicks into effect:

   "To be eligible for sectional, intersectional or state competition, a team must have competed in six (6) school scheduled contests which occurred on six (6) different dates during the season."

   The rule is in the same vein as the minimum football requirement of three games played that tripped up Aquinas and star quarterback Jake Zembiec in 2015, ultimately landing everyone in State Supreme Court, so Section 1 wasn't interested in taking any chances. They brought the issue to the NYSPHSAA meeting, explained their concern, answered questions and got approval for a waiver.

   And now reps from the rest of the state can go back to their sections and verify that they also have all their ducks in a row.

   Was it earth-shattering stuff? No, not at all. But rules are rules, and having the foresight to raise the issue now probably saved Section 1 and the NYSPHSAA some aggravation down the road.

   And on the other hand ... Wait, I'm running out of hands here: The one negative takeaway for me from the NYSPHSAA meeting was the Central Committee vote on the ability of ineligible athletes to practice with their teams. The matter was specific to students required to sit out a year because they had transferred, and the vote by a margin of 30-15 means that relatively small set of affected students still will not be able to practice even though the governing bodies in 36 other states have come down on the other side.

   The mere fact that these students are ineligible to play for the entire season is penalty enough in my mind, and nothing raised in the debate Tuesday served as rationale for a "no" vote. Taking the ability to practice away from the kids constitutes piling on, and I hope the proverbial cooler heads prevail when the issue comes up again down the road.


  
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