A new state law may prevent Countryside High School from having to forfeit football victories even though it used an ineligible player for more than half of this season.
The Florida High School Athletic Association said Monday that it ruled Countryside quarterback Christian Strong ineligible because he was not living with a legal guardian and the school did not fill out the proper form regarding his eligibility.
The FHSAA, however, has not decided if Countryside will have to forfeit the six regular-season games in which Strong played. Thanks to a law passed in July, the forfeiture of games comes only if a coach or administrator knowingly used an ineligible player.
And even then, forfeits aren’t a given. The FHSAA is now required to try to avoid punishing an entire team for the improper actions of a few.
According to House Bill No. 1403: The FHSAA bylaws may not limit the competition of student athletes prospectively for rule violations of their school or its coaches or their adult representatives. The FHSAA bylaws may not unfairly punish student athletes for eligibility or recruiting violations perpetrated by a teammate, coach, or administrator. Contests may not be forfeited for inadvertent eligibility violations unless the coach or a school administrator should have known of the violation. Contests may not be forfeited for other eligibility violations or recruiting violations in excess of the number of contests that the coaches and adult representatives responsible for the violations are prospectively suspended.
FHSAA director of eligibility Michael Colby said the organization will decide on penalties by the end of this week. Countryside has until 5 p.m. today to file an appeal. The hearing would be Nov. 1 in Bradenton.
Strong, a senior, transferred from Canada in the spring and said he moved in with relatives in Clearwater. Countryside administrators asked for an eligibility ruling then, and the FHSAA determined Strong could not play in the spring because he had transferred mid-semester, according to Colby.
Countryside was supposed to have filled out an EL-4 form, which is required for international students, but did not because Strong told administrators he was an American with dual citizenship, Colby said.
“It turned out he was not an American citizen and the form was not turned in until about two weeks ago,” Colby said.
All paperwork on players is required to be submitted before the season starts. In recent weeks, Countryside has been investigated by the Pinellas County School District’s Office of Professional Standards for not submitting paperwork on volunteer coaches.
Strong played in Class 7A-9 district victories over Seminole and Northeast. If the FHSAA makes Countryside forfeit games, the Cougars (currently 7-1, 3-0) are likely out of the playoffs thanks to Pinellas Park’s win over Northeast this past week. The Cougars have made the postseason the past four years.
Armwood was the last Tampa Bay school penalized by the FHSAA for residency issues. In June, the football program was stripped of 2011’s 15 victories — and the Class 6A state title — after the FHSAA found five players had falsified residence information or did not make a full and complete move into Armwood’s geographic school zone. The school also was fined $12,000.
Those penalties were doled out before the new law went into effect.