Playing by the rules

Nov. 1, 2006, midnight | By Ethan Kuhnhenn | 17 years, 6 months ago

Forfeitures a harsh dose of reality for ineligible high school athletics programs

Reports of schools changing athletes' grades to meet eligibility caused a ruckus in the Blair community last week, with parents, students and administrators all weighing in on the issue through listservs, newspaper forums and chats with athletic teams.

Concern at Blair arose after an MCPS audit of school athletic programs revealed that a total of 46 students at eight schools were academically ineligible, and, as Board of Education policy mandates, were forced to forfeit all of the games in which the ineligible player(s) participated.

Fortunately, Blair has not been implicated in any grade-changing fiascos, yet the severity of the punishments for other high schools should serve as a warning to coaches, teachers and the Blair Athletic Department.

For athletes at other schools, whose teams were found to have ineligible players, the forfeiture of past games is a harsh but fair reality. Being stripped of four victories, as was the case with the Einstein boys' soccer team or even only one has a significant effect on both the record and morale of a team. Eligible students on these teams have every right to be upset, and in this case, playing the blame game is a necessary process. Everyone involved in putting ineligible players on the field, from teachers fudging grades to Athletic Directors overlooking them, needs to be punished.

Teachers may think that they are doing their student-athletes a favor by inappropriately boosting their grades or sending a faulty grade report to the coach or athletic director. But in doing so, they fail to realize the disservice they do their students by giving them an easy way out. At the same time, they are doing the athletic program a disservice by threatening the legitimacy of the games each and every time ineligible players step onto the field.

Before athletes can don their school team's uniform, they are required to sign a contract that emphasizes the philosophy that school comes before athletics, hence the term "student-athlete." By knowingly changing grades so that students can play, teachers are sending the wrong message.

This is an all-or-nothing policy. If it gets enforced 100 percent, students will, at the very least, understand that they need the grades to play. Whether or not the eligibility policy is fair or effective in promoting academics is another story. Regardless, if the contract is only laxadasically enforced, the policy of academics before sports is thrown out of the window.

Sure, the forward with an E- GPA on the soccer team might get an assist one game, or the football team might score a touchdown because of a key block from the D+ tackle. At best, these teams win a few games because of the help of a few ineligible players. At worst, these teams forfeit their entire season because of teachers who, prodded by students, made poor decisions that unfairly punished those who played by the rules.

MCPS's decision to force athletic programs to forfeit games when ineligible players appeared was the right one.

Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »

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