San Luis Obispo High School boys soccer — one of the state’s top-ranked teams — has forfeited nearly all of its league games this season after two photographs surfaced showing a member of the team breaking CIF-Southern Section rules by playing in a men’s league game in Paso Robles last month.
According to emails obtained by The Tribune, the photos were sent Feb. 1 by Paso Robles High School boys soccer head coach Omar McPherson to the school’s athletic director, Anthony Morales, who then sent them to Arroyo Grande High School athletic director Stephen Field more than a week later — one day after SLO High defeated Arroyo Grande 3-0 to all but lock up the PAC 8 title.
Field then forwarded the email to SLO High athletic director Jeff Brandow, who launched an internal investigation. Upon questioning, four players admitted Wednesday to playing in the 11-on-11 men’s North County Soccer League, and Brandow said he then reported his findings to the CIF-Southern Section.
After the revelation Wednesday, SLO High petitioned the other seven area athletic directors in an emergency meeting Thursday on the SLO High campus to allow the team, which was ranked No. 2 in CIF-Division 2 with a 19-2 overall record (11-2 PAC 8), to be able to participate in the playoffs next week. That petition was denied, and the team was forced to forfeit 10 games in which the ineligible player had played.
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“We are very disappointed that our kids don’t get the opportunity to participate in the playoffs,” said SLO High principal Leslie O’Connor, who was in the meeting. “We as an institution have to reflect and make sure that these things don’t happen in the future. We have to make sure the parents, coaches and players understand the rules.”
Playing in an outside league during the high school season of that sport violates CIF-Southern Section Rule 600 that states: “A student on a high school team becomes ineligible if the student competes in a contest on an “outside” team, in the same sport, during the student’s high school season of sport.”
A player is only allowed to play outside the team if that team has half the required number of players, 5 on 5 for soccer or 3 on 3 for basketball, for example. A CIF-Southern Section spokesperson was not available for comment Thursday.
Arroyo Grande (11-0-2 PAC 8) will now become the PAC 8 champions after the SLO High forfeits. Previously third-place Paso Robles will add a win to its record (15-4-6, 9-3-1 PAC 8) and move into second place. The added win will likely give the Bearcats improved seeding in the CIF-Southern Section playoff brackets, which will be released on Monday.
According to McPherson’s email, the photographs were taken two days after SLO High defeated Paso Robles 3-1. SLO High played in two games, a win over Mission Prep and a win over first-place Arroyo Grande, before Morales sent the photos to Field.
“If the information had been forthcoming to us on the first of February, we would have had that conversation then,” O’Connor said. “We had games between the first and seventh of February that had major influences of the outcome of league standings.”
SLO High drops to 1-12 in league play (9-12-0 overall) with its only league win coming on a forfeit by Mission Prep early in the season. SLO High, winner of the last two league championships, will play its final game of the season Thursday against St. Joseph. The four players involved will not play. SLO High head coach James Boscaro could not be reached for comment.
When approached by The Tribune after Thursday’s meeting, Morales declined to comment and referred all questions to the district spokesperson. McPherson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Paso Robles Joint Unified School District athletic director Rich Clayton issued this statement to The Tribune on Friday:
"Given the current climate and the speed with which information both accurate and inaccurate travels, Paso Robles wanted to take time and ensure that any and all information was correct. These are situations that involve students and adults who put in thousands of hours and compete under tremendous pressures. Teams often reach the highest praises when winning and see the lowest lows when the court of public opinion gets to reach out for a brief moment and provide judgment through multiple platforms. Paso Robles was not passing the buck but merely ensuring that what was presented to us was fact. Arroyo Grande was involved only because coaches make relationships and talk and they reached out to take a look at some grainy pictures to ensure that a real situation was taking place in our soccer league. The unfortunate piece is that we all lose. Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande lose because they have to report the situation. San Luis loses because one of the top teams has had to self-report. And soccer fans lose because we may not get to see one of our best teams compete in the playoffs."
“It’s a good learning lesson for (the administration),” SLO High athletic director Jeff Brandow said. “It’s a tough time. It’s tough to be a teenage kid and have all these big dreams and find out your season is done.”
Only five of the eight PAC 8 league athletic directors participated in the vote to deny SLO High a shot at the playoffs Thursday. Paso Robles and Righetti abstained, and SLO High was not allowed a vote.
“We as a collective group as people in the world of education and sports have to understand that we have to come together and collectively come together for the betterment of students,” O’Connor said. “It shouldn’t be us against you. We all went into this business to make it better for kids and that should be our driving mission. It shouldn’t be kids in North County, kids in South County, it should be all kids, all the time.”
SLO High senior forward on the team posted his reaction to the news on Twitter.
“So sad that the only way men’s soccer could be taken down is from a cheap shot,” the senior wrote Thursday afternoon. “We all know who the best team on the field was. (Paso Robles) weren’t good enough so they had to take it to desperate measures. Sad, but we all know who the real league champs are.”
Brandow said the team was crushed by the decision when they found out their petition was denied. He said he plans to report the athletic director’s decision to the CIF-Southern Section on Thursday afternoon.