Rules are rules, but it’s wrong to boot SLO High’s soccer team from the playoffs

By The Tribune Editorial Board

San Luis Obispo High boys soccer players, seen here in a 2017 file photo, were forced to forfeit 10 wins and the league title this year.
San Luis Obispo High boys soccer players, seen here in a 2017 file photo, were forced to forfeit 10 wins and the league title this year. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Rules — as we’re often reminded — are rules. But there are times when a) the rule doesn’t make much sense and b) the punishment for breaking the rule doesn’t fit the crime.

Such is the case with the California Interscholastic Federation’s Rule 600, which forbids high school athletes from playing for an outside team — such as a club team — while they are playing that same sport on a high school team.

That rule came back to bite the San Luis Obispo High School boys soccer team, which had to forfeit 10 wins after it was discovered that four players were also competing in a North County men’s league. As a result, the entire team will have to sit out the playoffs, unless there’s some kind of last-minute reprieve, which looks highly doubtful.

That stinks. It’s unfair to the members of the team who did not break the rules. We also believe it’s too big a burden of guilt for these four students and their families to have to carry around.

Should the four students have known better? Of course, though quite possibly, other students may have gotten away with this before with no ramifications, and the players figured it was no big deal.

Whatever the circumstances, the offending players were wrong and deserve to miss the postseason. That, in and of itself, is punishment enough for the rest of the team, since they won’t have their teammates’ skills and talents to rely upon.

If that’s not good enough for CIF, then put the team on probation and require it to go through additional training in CIF rules.

But don’t turn what could be a high point of these boys’ high school experience into a something they’ll look back on with bitterness and regret for years.

What’s more, robbing the entire team of an opportunity to go to the playoffs will only encourage a mean, unhealthy rivalry between schools, and judging by the circumstances of this episode, relationships between schools are already strained.

This was very much a “gotcha” situation: Photographs were taken of one of the SLO High players during a men’s league game in Paso, and those photos were shared with Paso Robles High’s athletic department. More than a week later, Paso High’s athletic director sent them — not to San Luis High — but to Arroyo Grande High’s athletic director, who in turn sent them to SLO.

It should never have been handled that way.

Those photos should have been shared with SLO High right away — not held onto for days and then passed on to Arroyo Grande.

By way of explanation, Paso athletic director Rich Clayton put out a written statement that said, in part:

“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.”

Seriously? We saw one of the photos, and there was nothing “grainy” about it; it clearly showed one of the SLO High players in a men’s league game.

The entire situation reeks of putting petty politics above kids.

What’s more, Rule 600 is arbitrary on its face and causes way more trouble than it’s worth.

There are so many exceptions to the rule that it’s not effective in preventing kids from overtraining or getting “burned out” on athletics. For example, students may play variants of their sport, such as 5-on-5 soccer; they can play pickup games, and they can participate on a club team in a different sport.

Sticklers for the rules won’t like it, but we believe CIF should abandon this punitive and confusing prohibition on “outside” play, or at the very least, revise the penalties.

It may be too late for San Luis High boys soccer, but it’s not too late for upcoming classes of student athletes.

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