High School Football

Send Fenwick to state championship game with East Side, send bylaw 6.033 to the shredder

Todd Eschman - BND Sports Editor
Todd Eschman - BND Sports Editor

Two weeks ago, I was prepared to defend IHSA bylaw No. 6.033.

This week, I think it needs to be run through a shredder and chucked out the window.

What’s altered my view is the calamitous error made by field officials during the 7A football semifinal that probably cost the Fenwick High School Friars their chance to meet East St. Louis for the state championship Saturday in Champaign.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened:

Fenwick was leading Plainfield North 10-7 in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jacob Keller heaved a fourth-and-15 pass down field to run down the final seconds to the Friars’ first trip to the state final.

But game officials flagged Keller for intentional grounding and allowed Plainfield North a final, untimed play from the spot of the penalty, which it used to kick the tying field goal. Plainfield North went on to win the game in overtime and advance to the title game against the Flyers.

By rule, however, Plainfield North never should have been allowed that final play in regulation, and Fenwick should have won.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson says Fenwick has no recourse, invoking bylaw 6.033 which plainly states that “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors.”

That rule made sense to me two weeks ago when Mater Dei head coach Jim Stiebel threatened to appeal a ruling on the final play of his Knights’ 4A quarterfinal game in Canton.

Officials ruled that Trevor Johnson failed to reach the goal line on what would have been a game-winning two-point conversation. Stiebel insisted they were wrong and had sideline smart phone footage to prove it.

It was close all right, but none of the four videos I saw would pass the NFL sniff test for conclusivity. Either way, can you imagine what Pandora’s box would be opened by allowing such an appeal? How many administrative hours would go into reviewing every amateur video of every close play?

In Fenwick’s case, Anderson was as conclusive as he could be in a statement released by the IHSA roughly two hours after the bad call upended the Friars’ season.

“Per Rule 3-3-4 in the 2016 NFHS Football Rules Book, the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded ...” Anderson wrote. “There is no doubt that the crew assigned to officiate this contest by the IHSA should have known this rule and they were forthcoming about the error in conversations after the game.”

So the officials know it, Anderson knows it, the NFSA rules confirm it, yet the game’s outcome still stands? Yes, because bylaw No. 6.033 says basically the IHSA isn’t accountable for the officials it trains and certifies no matter how egregious their decisions.

Fenwick has taken its cause to the Cook County Circuit Court, hoping to win an injunction against the IHSA and force a ruling on a different outcome. Lawyers will make the Friars’ case before Judge Kathleen Kennedy Wednesday at 9 a.m.

I’m no lawyer, but my layman’s guess is that the IHSA bylaws will stand and that the Flyers will face Plainfield North for the 7A title. But I hope I’m wrong.

Plainfield North coach Tim Kane wouldn’t address the situation during Monday’s IHSA teleconference, and who can blame him? This stinks for his players too because either they’ll be bounced from championship contention by a court ruling or face East St. Louis under a cloud of controversy.

In the meantime, Fenwick coach Gene Nudo has expressed his thoughts on bylaw 6.033 and what it may cost his Friars.

“There will never ever be a protest for an egregious act as long as that rule is there,” he told Chicago Tribune reporter Mike Helfgot. “It’s a great way to hide behind something — it is final and that’s it. How is that the right thing to do?”

BND Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman