Oceanside Collegiate must forfeit four football games, pay a fine and give up its region title, but the team will be allowed to play in the state playoffs that begin Friday.
The S.C. High School League made the ruling Monday afternoon after determining that on four occasions this season, Oceanside allowed junior varsity players to either play in or dress for varsity games within the same week they played in JV games. The school was fined $16,500.
The Landsharks finished the season 9-0 and won the Region 6-AA championship, but with the forfeits the team drops to a No. 4 seed in the playoffs and will play on the road Friday night at Andrews, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning Region 7.
After losing to the Landsharks, 70-0, on Oct. 18, Phillip Simmons reported Oceanside to the High School League for using players in its JV and varsity games on back-to-back nights. Oceanside was forced to forfeit games against Gray Collegiate, Legion Collegiate and Burke as well.
“Oceanside Collegiate used illegal players in four games, so they had to forfeit those games,” said S.C. High School League executive director Jerome Singleton. “The rules are pretty clear cut, if a school uses an illegal player then the school has to forfeit all the games they were used in.”
Oceanside Collegiate’s first-round opponent, Andrews, is coached by former Goose Creek assistant Scott Durham. Goose Creek was forced out of the playoffs in 2012 for using an ineligible player.
The decision by the high school league doesn't sit well with Durham. His team won a region championship and the right to play the No. 4 seed from 6-AA; that turns out to be an unbeaten Oceanside team.
“It’s unfair to our kids who busted their tails to win a region title, which comes with a reward in the brackets,” Durham said. “This is the first time in probably 40 years a region champion has had to play a 9-0 team in the first round and that was back when only region champions made the playoffs.”
Timberland, which lost to Oceanside, 49-40, on Oct. 25, is now the Region 6-AA winner and will host Latta in the first round of the playoffs. Philip Simmons is the second-seeded team from the region and will face Whale Branch, while Burke is now the No. 3 seed and will host Eau Claire.
Oceanside coach Chad Grier took the blame for the Landsharks having to forfeit the games. He said there was never any intent to gain a competitive advantage, only to reward his younger players with a chance to dress out for a varsity game.
“This is 100 percent my responsibility,” Grier said after practice on Monday. “All I can tell you is that there was never any intent to break any rule of any kind. We played kids once in a JV game for three quarters and those kids played late in the fourth quarter – a handful of snaps – at the end of a 70-0 win.
"The other times we dressed JV kids out in varsity games but they never played. They stood on the sideline. They got to dress out for a varsity game as a reward. My understanding was that a kid could play in four quarters, so that’s on me. I didn’t know the rule.
“Whether I agree with the punishment or not, that’s immaterial. I set an example for our kids and when you make a mistake you own it, accept the consequences and move on and that’s what we’re going to do.”
While Oceanside was waiting to learn its playoff fate, other schools in the area were also waiting to see who their first-round opponents might be. On Saturday morning, Timberland head coach Art Craig was trading game films with Whale Branch, assuming his team would be the region runner-up behind Oceanside Collegiate.
Singleton said the delay in the decision was because the High School League was waiting on information from Oceanside Collegiate and didn’t get it until Monday morning.
“We wanted to decide this weekend,” Singleton said. “We knew what was at stake, but we didn’t all the information from Oceanside until Monday. Then we met and made a decision as quickly as possible.”
Wando football coach Jimmy Noonan and Oceanside Collegiate coach Chad Grier are on opposite sides of the field on the issue of traditional schools vs. charter and private schools in athletics.
Durham says he has spoken with officials in his school district to see if there is any appeals process, though it is not likely. He further vented his frustration with the SCHSL.
“It is obvious the people in Columbia had no concern as to what was best for the teams that didn’t break the rules,” he said. “What Goose Creek did was far less egregious than this situation and they were kicked out of the playoffs.”
At this point, Grier said he’s just glad his players get to participate in the playoffs.
“I think we’re just glad it’s over,” Grier said. “We’re disappointed in the whole process, but we’re here to coach kids. I moved to South Carolina to coach football and I love this team and these kids. People throw rocks at this place because we’re successful. Eleven of our starters are kids that got beat 70-0 every week three years ago. They are the success story. I’m glad they are getting the opportunity to play for a state championship and that's all that matters at the end of the day.”
Like most of the teams in the Class AA Lower State playoffs, Grier was scrambling on Monday to find any information on his first-round opponent.
“I don’t know a thing about them, other than they must be a good football team because they won their region,” Grier said. “We’re going to be a day behind like a lot of schools.”
Oceanside principal Brenda Corley said the school would appeal three of the forfeits — against Gray, Legion and Burke — as well as the fine.
FRIDAY'S PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
(All games begin at 7:30 p.m.)
Wando at Conway
Lexington at Fort Dorchester
West Florence at Berkeley
Cane Bay at Carolina Forest
West Ashley at River Bluff
South Florence at Goose Creek
Lugoff-Elgin at Summerville
Colleton County at Airport
Lake City at Bishop England
Latta at Timberland
Whale Branch at Philip Simmons
Eau Claire at Burke
Oceanside Collegiate at Andrews
Military Magnet at Cross
Bethune-Bowman at St. John’s
Porter-Gaud at Laurence Manning
Ben Lippen at First Baptist
Northwood at Trinity-Byrnes
Dorchester Academy at Pee Dee Academy