I don’t typically follow the Oakland Bishop O’Dowd girls basketball team, the La Quinta girls soccer squad or the Indio Shadow Hills softball team.

However, what happened to all three teams during the course of the past several months should be disheartening for any fan of sport.

Bishop O’Dowd was disqualified from the 2014 CIF North Coast Section Playoffs, and thus couldn’t participate in the CIF State playoffs, because it had played 27 regular season games. The maximum, according to section policy, is 26.

Some publications had ranked O’Dowd second in the state in its division before the Dragons were disqualified.

The top-ranked La Quinta girls soccer team had to forfeit a CIF Southern Section Division 5 quarterfinal win over San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret’s because a player who had been red-carded in the previous game, after watching the quarterfinal game from a public sidewalk near the La Quinta stadium, ran to join her teammates on the pitch after their win.

St. Margaret’s reportedly reported her presence at the game to the section office and she was deemed to be in attendance at the game, which is dis-allowed under CIF-SS policy regarding a suspended player.

Had St. Margaret’s not reported the incident, Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the responsibility would have fallen on La Quinta to self-report it anyway once the violation became apparent.

St. Margaret’s defeated San Marino 1-0 in the semifinals and played La Canada Saturday for the divisional championship.

The Shadow Hills softball team took batting practice at the ballpark before its 2013 playoff game against San Pedro Mary Star of the Sea. That is expressly forbidden, according to CIF-SS rules. Shadow Hills had to forfeit its win.

Three devastated teams. And it all was utterly avoidable.

Twenty-six allowable games amounts to 26 allowable games. The wording in the CIF Southern Section blue book regarding taking batting practice at the ballpark before a game is also clear, so it is a head-scratcher as to how O’Dowd and Shadow Hills slipped up.

O’Dowd apparently said it thought one of its games was a scrimmage. A phone call or e-mail to the right person beforehand could have cleared up any doubt. 

The La Quinta situation sparked a debate. Part of the problem is that the wording in By-law 2416 of the Southern Section’s blue book, which the CIF-SS office ruled La Quinta ran afoul of in rejecting the team’s appeal, is ambiguous.

The by-law reads, “A player who was ejected from the previous contest who knowingly, or unknowingly, participates in or is in attendance at the next contest, will result in the forfeiture of every contest until the suspension is completely served.

“Attendance is defined as being present at the team bench/area, inside a gymnasium, stadium or playing area. The intent of this rule is that the ejected person not be present at the next contest.”

Therein lies the bone of contention. The suspended player saw the game, but she was outside the confines of the stadium while it was going on.

CIF-SS spokesman Thom Simmons said in an e-mail to the Riverside Press-Enterprise the following Sunday that the rule’s intent is that an ejected player  “cannot in any way, be in attendance at the game. That means anywhere near the facility, up to and including being able to visually watch the contest.”

That wording is clear. The wording in the by-law is not. I think the wording in the by-law needs to be changed to say specifically that a suspended player cannot watch the next contest from anywhere. That would avoid any mis-understanding.

Another problem is that apparently no one at La Quinta took the seconds necessary to e-mail the section office in order to clear up any doubt. If anyone had, I believe the response would have been quick and unambiguous — the suspended player needed to be nowhere within eyesight of the game while it was going on.

I have asked the section office questions many times regarding far less important matters than this, and Simmons has always given me a prompt response. 

The La Quinta athletic director told the Press-Enterprise that the La Quinta coach asked a referee, who is part of the officials’ advisory board, beforehand if the player could watch the game from outside the stadium. The athletic director told the Press-Enterprise that the referee told the coach that the player would be able to.

No one should put any blame on the referee. The referee was not the one to ask.

I think the thing to do in St. Margaret’s situation would have been to call a team meeting, with parents invited to attend, and say, “Guys, we’re not advancing. We didn’t earn it. Moving on in the playoffs because a teenager accidentally broke an ambiguous rule in order to celebrate a win with her teammates is not the way to do it.”

If St. Margaret’s had done this, La Quinta would not have advanced anyway since its appeal had been denied. And, since the losing team advances in the event of a forfeit by a winning team according to Southern Section policy, St. Margaret’s may have been obligated to play the game anyway.

If not, I think a double forfeit putting San Marino in the championship game would have been preferable to what wound up going down.

Getting back to the Shadow Hills fiasco, I find something unseemly about parents snapping away on their cell phones to gather pictures for “evidence,” in order to bust a rival team of teenagers. That is reportedly what some Mary Star of the Sea parents did. They should have left any evidence gathering of a violation to their school’s coach or athletic director.

Nonetheless, the particular rule against batting practice is clear. Shadow Hills shouldn’t have done it.

If you are responsible for writing rules, write clear-cut rules. If you are responsible for adhering to rules, adhere to them.

If you are allowed 26 games and your athletic calendar has 27 events, make sure beforehand that one of those events is a scrimmage. Don’t take batting practice at the ballpark before a game.

Tell a suspended player, “Look, to be on the safe side, you need to stay home for this one. Someone will text you updates regularly, and we’ll see you at practice after we win the game for you.”

And, if you want to win with any class, don’t take a “victory,” you haven’t earned.

This shouldn’t be that hard.      

  

  

  

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