As promised, here’s my column from today’s Journal News on what I believe Kennedy probably acted wrong — but is still being unjustly punished by Section 1:
Late last March in Glens Falls, New Rochelle High School converged on the improbable and the historic. Its basketball team rose from the depths of a .500 record, shocked rival Mount Vernon at the buzzer and reached the state final.
What happened next was anything but a “Hoosiers” moment. In pursuit of the program’s first state boys basketball championship, the Huguenots were humbled by Bishop Kearney, a Catholic school from suburban Rochester that boasted a deep reserve of talent and three forwards bigger (on average) than the Knicks’ starting frontcourt.
Ending on the losing side in a state championship always stings, but here the sensation seeped an extra layer. Several New Rochelle players and fans took to Twitter bemoaning that they lost to a Catholic school with an advantage too obvious to ignore. They happened to be right. After all, even in defeat, their team had been the last public school standing in the Class AA public-school state tournament.
The omnipresence of opponents such as Bishop Kearney on non-league schedules and in state tournaments complicates Section 1’s recent decision to levy sanctions against Kennedy Catholic for alleged recruiting violations. Local teams routinely schedule games against NYSPHSAA members and outside “friends and neighbors” in violation of the very rules Kennedy is charged with breaking.
If official evidence against Kennedy seems substantial, damning anecdotal evidence suggesting an unfair playing field would already limit the school’s local scheduling options now that it has left Section 1. Several programs burned by transfers to the Somers school likely would decline the opportunity to schedule non-league games against the Gaels’ stronger teams, which is their right. Why do the best of Iona Prep and Stepinac’s programs have fewer and fewer games against Section 1 opponents every year?
Especially in its best years, Mount Vernon’s storied basketball program is among those willing to accept those types of challenges, however steep. In 2012, the Knights traveled for a tournament at Montverde Academy, a Florida school with a new $6.5 million arena and a coach pocketing a six-figure annual salary, free car and housing. Player introductions include laser-light shows.
Even Montverde’s headmaster admitted to the Orlando Sentinel last April that the school must recruit to survive. Yet, if Section 1’s ruling is upheld, a team can play Montverde but not Kennedy?
The contrast reeks of hypocrisy, but section administrators — and now a state appeals panel — face a sticky issue. The allegations against Kennedy occurred while it was a standing member of Section 1; the punishment — if it stands — does not, arriving on the heels of the school’s defection to the CHSAA. Is that fair?
Although no longer the section’s problem, the decision could cripple several of Kennedy’s girls programs and impact the remaining teams, who wouldn’t play a road game within 30 miles of campus. Many administrators, coaches and players within Section 1 may not care. Their duty is understandably absent toward a school in competition for their best student-athletes.
But on a sports landscape littered with Catholic and private-school opponents both inside and outside the NYSPHSAA, what makes Kennedy’s case so different?