FHSAA finds insufficient evidence against Tampa Catholic

Published March 12 2015
Updated March 13 2015

After a more than year-long investigation into two Tampa Catholic athletic programs for allegations of recruiting, the Florida High School Athletic Association has found insufficient evidence to support the claims, according to a letter the FHSAA sent to principal Tom Reidy on Tuesday.

Though the case was ultimately determined to be a matter of schools' conflicting claims, the FHSAA did find that Tampa Catholic's efforts to educate its coaches as it pertained to recruiting policies was insufficient and that a "representative of Tampa Catholic did have conversation(s) related to participating in athletics … with a non-Tampa Catholic student." The FHSAA, however, could not find evidence that TC promised benefits, such as playing time.

The Crusaders have been placed on administrative probation until June 1, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. Tampa Catholic was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine, but because of actions taken to correct the education issue, the FHSAA says, the fine will be lifted on June 1 if there is no repeat of those violations.

Despite the findings of insufficient education of coaches, Reidy said he is satisfied with the findings and stands by the school's defense that no recruiting violation took place.

"To say the FHSAA was thorough would be an understatement," Reidy said. "I think what happens is, anytime you dig as deep as the FHSAA does, you find areas of improvement with any organization."

In January 2014, just one day after five-star wide receiver Nate Craig began classes at Tampa Catholic upon his transfer from Pasco High, his former school called the state to report a recruiting allegation. In an email Pasco football coach Tom McHugh sent to the FHSAA, McHugh said Craig told him a Hillsborough County coach had asked him and his mother to change schools because he "would fit perfectly into their team."

Craig, who committed to Auburn in July, later transferred to Tampa Catholic in the middle of his sophomore year, a move his mother told the Times had nothing to do with football. Craig broke his fibula in Tampa Catholic's season-opening game on Aug. 31 and has yet to compete in another contest for the Crusaders.

Regarding a Pasco football player who never actually transferred to Tampa Catholic, the letter states that a Tampa Catholic assistant football coach contacted the student's mother at her place of employment but "maintains that there were only two conversations and did not address athletic participation beyond one of the conversations."

"I have a hard time not defending our coaches because when you look at the breadth of everything we were accused of by other member schools, and the FHSAA findings are what they are, I think that says a lot about Tampa Catholic and our staff and our coaches," Reidy said about that particular claim. "If that's the only thing that came out, I can live with that."

A second recruiting allegation was made by Sunlake High, which, according to the FHSAA letter, claimed that two baseball players received home visits from Tampa Catholic coaches asking them to transfer. Tampa Catholic, the Sunlake players and their parents denied that those visits occurred when questioned by FHSAA officials.

In a letter sent to the FHSAA in January 2014, former Sunlake baseball coach Dick Rohrberg said he asked a multisport athlete why he wasn't trying out for the Seahawks baseball team, and the student responded, "a Tampa Catholic football coach came to watch me play and they made me an offer that is too good to pass up," Rohrberg wrote.

As of Tuesday afternoon, McHugh had not been notified by the FHSAA of the investigation's findings. He said he believed there was more than sufficient evidence to back his claim, especially considering that he was not the only coach to report an allegation.

"I have to coach the players I have, the guys in this community. … These private schools, it's kind of like they're marauders. They can do whatever they want," McHugh said. "There's absolutely no hammer."

Contact Kelly Parsons at [email protected]. Follow @_kellyparsons.