The 2016 football season didn’t start out well for Notre Dame Prep.
Last night it got a lot worse.
The north Scottsdale Catholic high school was put on probation by the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) for conducting a summer football class that violated its bylaws. As a result the team, which plays in the 5A conference, will not be eligible for the playoffs.
The ruling, which was passed unanimously by the AIA Executive Council at last night’s meeting, caps off a somewhat tumultuous season for the Saints that began with a controversy over the use of lights on its football field and threatened its season-opening home game.
Notre Dame administrators were told over the summer that the lighting that had been installed on their new football field did not meet Scottsdale City compliance requirements and would have to have the issue resolved before the team’s home opener.
To add fuel to the fire, the school was being targeted by a local HOA group that was representing surrounding neighbors who were objecting to the bright lighting disrupting their nighttime serenity.
Once the issue was finally resolved and the season got underway with a win over Shadow Ridge High School to start the schedule, the high-flying Saints were stunned by a 48-19 loss to Desert Edge High School in their first road game. Three games later, they lost a heart-breaking triple overtime thriller to visiting La Salle High School from Pasadena, Calif.
But they recovered and put together three straight wins to move into first place in their region.
During that time, however, the unresolved issue of a possible penalty for that summer class hung over their heads. The violation in question is a summer-school football course held in June that had the players in helmets and full pads. AIA bylaws limit member schools to non-contact activities and weight training during the off-season, allowing only equipment such as footballs, kicking tees, and cleats. Not pads and helmets.
The potential violation was brought up in the first AIA Executive Board meeting of the year, in August, during which NDP President James Gmelich and Athletic Director Monica Barrett were questioned for nearly an hour. The board tabled a vote, feeling it needed more information before making a final decision as to penalties.
Evidently, the board members felt they had enough information and made their ruling at the October meeting, finally lifting the cloud of uncertainty – but not in a way Notre Dame head coach Mark Nolan had hoped.
Notre Dame was also hit with an additional recruiting violation, but was put on probation for that penalty and will run it concurrently with the summer class probation so that the Saints won’t be held out of the 2017 playoffs.
The unfortunate part to all of this is that the real losers are the players on this year’s team – who did nothing wrong. A mistake by the adults that run their program will result in an early end to a promising season, one in which the players have worked hard to earn that spot in the playoffs.
But then, isn’t that always the case? The players – and their parents – will once again pay the price.