Imposing reasonable deterrents against high schools that use ineligible athletes makes sense. Banning Goose Creek High from the state football playoffs for an oversight that gained it no competitive advantage does not.
State Circuit Court Judge Roger Young correctly recognized that distinction Friday in Moncks Corner with a ruling that voided the South Carolina High School League’s unduly severe punishment of Goose Creek. Too bad the judge left open the possibility that the League could restore that sanction on Monday.
Still, Friday’s legal outcome was a major victory for the Gators — and for fair play.
An ineligible football player took the field for Goose Creek this season — but only for a limited number of snaps, and only when the powerhouse Gators were far ahead on the scoreboard. Goose Creek clearly would have won those games by large margins regardless of his participation.
Yet this week, after Goose Creek High officials discovered and reported the inadvertent error that had kept the player listed as eligible, the S.C. High School League responded with a death penalty to the Gators’ hopes of repeating as Division II-AAAA state champions: It banned Goose Creek from the playoffs.
The High School League Board upheld that punishment on Wednesday, rejecting an appeal by Goose Creek High and Berkeley County School District officials.
Meanwhile, the League violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act by barring the public from that hearing in Columbia.
Yes, referees have made some awful calls at all levels of football this season.
But the High School League’s decision to end Goose Creek’s season is in a blown-call league of its own.
Fortunately, though, no replay review was needed to overturn it. And the mighty Gators extended their winning streak to 26 Friday night with a 35-25 second-round triumph over Bluffton.
The losing Bobcats were subjected to disconcerting confusion of their own on Friday. They had to wait until after 1 p.m. before the judge’s ruling revealed that they would be playing a road game at Goose Creek that night instead of a home game against Conway.
Ideally, players, coaches and fans wouldn’t be subjected to such 11th-hour, off-field suspense. Ideally, our court system wouldn’t need to intervene in such matters.
And ideally, the High School League Board won’t again exert unnecessary roughness against Goose Creek when the panel takes this case up again on Monday in Columbia.
So good for Judge Young on issuing a winning ruling.
And good for the Gators as they strive for a second straight state title.