When word spread that the San Luis Obispo High School boys soccer team would be forced to forfeit 10 games after four players violated a CIF-Southern Section bylaw by participating in an 11-on-11 recreational league game last month, reactions were wide-ranging.
Some people were angry. Some were absolute. Some were confused.
To make sense of bylaw 600 — a longtime rule which forbids a player from competing in a contest on an “outside” team in the same sport during the high school season — The Tribune spoke to CIF-Southern Section assistant commissioner Thom Simmons, who has 21 years of experience in his position.
“(Bylaw 600) is a rule that has been around a lot longer than I have been alive,” Simmons said Friday. “I can’t tell you the specific reason it was created, but this is my own interpretation: The rule was made to try to give kids a break during the season and allow them to be focused on one sport at a time.”
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The rule does allow for students to compete in variations of the same sport. For example, if a soccer player wants to play indoor soccer or futsal, that is allowed. The same goes for flag football, beach volleyball or slow-pitch softball. They can also play “if the outside team has half or more of the team members as stated in the National Federation rules book.”
Three-on-three basketball is a no go. Two-on-two volleyball is OK. Simmons said these sports are different enough to lessen the risk of injury.
“We want to make sure that, at least during the high school season, we are lessening the wear and tear of the student athletes,” Simmons said.
Players can also participate in what’s called “spontaneous recreational activity,” more commonly known as a pick-up game “in which sides or teams are chosen without regard to players representing any group or organization.”
Spontaneous is defined as “no prior planning or notice; an unplanned part of another activity which has a primary focus other than the sport.” The North County soccer league that the four SLO High players participated in did not fit this definition as it has a set schedule and a structured league.
Simmons pointed out that these rules were not created by the CIF-Southern Section but instead the leagues themselves.
“If the schools feel that this is a rule that needs to be looked at, we are prepared to entertain what they decide,” Simmons said.
But, he added, “I have not heard any human cry out there about changing that rule, and I have been here for 21 years. No (member league representative) has come to me and said this (bylaw 600) is bad and we need to get rid of it.”
He also pointed out the bylaw is unique.
“This is one of the few bylaws that actually have a penalty written into the law itself. This is the one where the membership actually decided that this is so important that they would actually give us guidance on how to penalize a school in violation of this bylaw,” Simmons said.
And the penalty is clear: “Games in which a student participated on his/her high school team after violation of Bylaw 600 shall be forfeited.”
There is a process that could change the rule. If a majority of the 90 section leagues present at council meetings held three times a year vote to revise or eliminate the rule, it would be changed. SLO High, along with other area schools, will move to the CIF-Central Section in the fall, but the rule is still applicable.
Simmons said he empathizes with the players from SLO High who didn’t break the rule who won’t be able to participate in the playoffs.
“It’s a tough thing for kids because they always get hurt by the actions of the people outside of their sphere of influence,” Simmons said.
SLO High was working with section officials Friday in a last-ditch effort to have the ruling overturned. But according to Simmons, the final say on the matter came when the PAC 8 athletic directors voted Thursday against SLO High’s admission into the playoffs.
“It’s not for us to overrule. We don’t have the ability to do that,” Simmons said. “The bylaws state that we accept league (playoff) entries submitted by the league.”
SLO High principal Leslie O’Connor was still working to craft a last-minute appeal before playoff brackets are released at 9 a.m. Monday. But as of Saturday, the PAC 8 and CIF-Southern Section ruling was final.