The Pace baseball team has won an emergency appeal with the Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors to play Armwood in the Class 5A state championship game tonight at 7 p.m.
By unanimous vote, Pace was granted a waiver for violating the Policy 10.1.1.3, FHSAA's "40/60" rule, which says that no team can play more than 40 percent of its regular season games against out-of-state competition and qualify for the state tournament.
Ten of Pace's 24 regular season games, or 41.67 percent, came against teams outside of Florida. But the Patriots' regular season finale -- their 25th scheduled game -- against Pensacola Catholic was rained out. If that game had been played, Pace would have been in compliance.
Pace's game against Pensacola Catholic was scheduled for Friday, April 23, but it was postponed because of rain that day. Efforts to make it up the next day were unsuccessful because or more inclimare weather, and district tournament play opened that next Monday on April 25. High school games can not be played on Sunday.
"There was no intent on out part to circumvent the rule," Pace principal Frank Lay told the board on a conference call Tuesday morning. "We certainly believe in (FHSAA's) governance and what they do for our students day in and day out in Florida. We regret that this has happened. We stand ready to do whatever we can to correct the matter or to do over and do better, so to speak. We ask for mercy and disregard, not for ourselves as adults, but for our students, who have earned the right and worked hard in this regard."
Lay added that while playing in a tournament in Crestview, Pace drew three out-of-state teams "by the luck of the draw", but could have faced Florida schools instead.
Pace presented several document to prove they didn’t intend to violate Policy 10.1.1.3. The school submitted four documents to support that it intented to play Pensacola Catholic, including it season schedule, a letter from the Pensacola Catholic principal and AD, the game contract and a contract with the local umpires association.
"As executive director, I do not have the power to waive a policy, but it was obvious to the attorney, Mr. Ireland, and myself, after several phone conversations that there was no intent to violate the rule," FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told the board on a conference call before the vote. "In fact, they were in complete compliance with our policies and rules and that because of an act of God, the inclimate weather on the last day of the end of the baseball season, created their inability to complete that schedule and therefor Pace High School is above this board for an emergency meeting to ask for a waiver of that policy."
The FHSAA didn't become aware of the situation until the fourth inning of Pace's 11-1 win over King in Monday's state semifinal. They were ruled ineligible, but under a new rule enacted last season, a school can request an emergency review, which Pace did.
Pace (28-2) is ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPNRise and No. 3 by USA Today and MaxPreps, the highest ranking of a school in Florida.