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Aquinas stunningly OUT of Section V football playoffs (and it's the school's fault)

Aquinas, the state football powerhouse and defending Class AA state champion, is out of the Section V (Rochester area) playoffs -- but it wasn't because of a loss on the field.

Section V ruled Tuesday that Aquinas must forfeit last week's 37-20 victory over Pittsford in the Section V quarterfinals. That leaves the Little Irish, ranked seventh in the New York State Sportswriters Association's Class AA poll (a new poll is due tomorrow), stunningly out of the postseason.

As detailed in a Rochester Democrat & Chronicle story and in a post by the New York State Sportswriters Association, the forfeit was a result of "using an ineligible player who did not meet the representation rule."

Here is Section V's press release on the matter:

As a result of a decision of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's Section V Executive Committee this morning, the Aquinas High School football team must forfeit their October 25th game against Pittsford Central School District for using an ineligible player who did not meet the representation rule.

The NYSPHSAA representation rule, included in the NYSPHSAA Handbook, states that a player must be an eligible participant in three regular season football games in order to participate in the postseason. The student in question was determined not to be an eligible participant for three regular season football games; furthermore no waiver was requested of the Section.

Ed Stores, the Section V Executive Director for the past 17 years, said "This is certainly an unfortunate situation, however Section V is charged with enforcing the rules and regulations which are voted upon and approved by the membership. The representation rule is clear that a student must be an eligible participant for three regular season football games in order to play in the postseason."

Pittsford Central School District will advance in the Section V playoffs on Saturday, November 1st against Rush-Henrietta.

The ineligible player apparently is standout junior quarterback Jake Zembiec.

Aquinas will hold a press conference at 4:30 p.m., according to a tweet by Jon Doss of Rochester's WHAM-TV.

I'm interested to see what the school has to say, because, based on today's news, I see the school as being at fault.

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This is obviously staggering news, and it is absolutely awful that a high school team is having its season end like this.

This is unfortunately not the first time that high school athletes have had the end of their season ruined due to a mistake made by adults. The most recent best (or worst) example in Section VI was three season ago, when the Holland girls soccer team (a favorite for the sectional title) was declared ineligible for the postseason because it had played too many games. An error was made by adults, and athletes paid dearly.

As in that example, this mistake seems to land squarely on Aquinas.

The rule is a good one. It is the job of athletic directors and coaches to be aware of such rules.

This is a state rule that applies to all sports. Just as athletes need a minimum number of practices in order to be eligible to play, athletes also need a certain number of regular-season contests to be eligible for the playoffs. This is certainly not the first time that an athlete has had an injury during the season but was able to resume competition in the postseason.

To me, the key phrase in Section V's press release is "furthermore, no waiver was requested of the Section."

If Aquinas requests a waiver, there is no reason to believe that it wouldn't be granted. It is fairly routine to have such waivers issued.

Section VI football chairman Ken Stoldt said that this rule, and the waiver procedure, are fairly well-known in Section VI.

"We just had a number of waivers for cross country kids," said Section VI football chairman Ken Stoldt. "It's just about the kid's safety -- if they were out in the regular season, it's a safeguard to make sure they're OK to participate in the playoffs."

Based on what he know about the Aquinas story today, Stoldt doubted that the forfeit decision would be overturned.

"An administrative error doesn't cover up for this mistake," he said. "I don' t see this going away."

Stoldt said that Section VI Executive Director Timm Slade makes a point to remind schools of procedural things such as this.

"In our section, Timm is really good about his," said Stoldt. "He has monthly reports, and there are reminders all the time: Make sure you have this amount of contests or whatever. It's a nice safeguard. I believe most of our ADs are on top of this. We don't go around checking, we trust that coaches and ADs monitor these things. If something comes up, we look into it.

"Honestly I think it comes back to the school and knowing the regulations. ... It's a shame that it happens that way. Hopefully everyone here and every other section is OK.

"I'm certain our ADs are well aware of the rule -- not just for football, but for all sports. There's not really a reason for people not to be aware of it ."

It should be noted that you could not have a more high-profile situation than this one. Zembiec is one of the very best players in the state and he is being recruited by a who's who of major college football programs. From Buffalo to downstate, everyone was aware that he was knocked out of Aquinas' Week Two game at Canisius (which claimed the top spot in the state Class AA poll with the win). His return to action last week in the quarterfinal was obviously newsworthy.

"If your starting left guard got hurt and just played two games in the regular season and then played in the playoffs, somebody might not notice that," said Stoldt. "With this one, that's not gong to get by."

For those who think Section V is responsible -- it can't be expected to monitor every school's player moves, that is the school's responsibility. If there was some of miscommunication, it's still ultimately on the school to know the state guidelines. For those wondering or worrying about who notified Section V of the ineligibility situation, that's not the point.

The point is that the rule should have been followed by the school, a waiver should have been requested by the school, and this all should have, and could have, been avoided.

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After a little more reflection, I tweeted this late Wednesday night.

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