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The Preps

Muir's Court Victory Could Give Southern Section Future Problems

February 23, 1988|Scott Howard-Cooper

The Aftermath: Muir High School of Pasadena took the court, and won, Saturday night in the first round of the Reebok/Ford Southern Section 4-A basketball playoffs against Irvine. It was a game the Mustangs were never supposed to play.

What makes the Muir situation so interesting is how the Mustangs got there: An almost unprecedented offense, the literal full-court press. Out of the playoffs last week after being forced to forfeit games and the Pacific League championship, they were put back into the post-season competition Thursday, the day before the 4-A was to begin, when a U.S. district judge issued a temporary restraining order in their favor.

"Just because of the track record of the CIF, you had to be cautious about being reinstated," Muir Coach Mike O'Connor said after returning from his hastily scheduled Thursday night practice. "You'd have been crazy to have liked our chances.

"Give the parents credit. They didn't give up. They worked hard for their kids."

Actually, this is not a loss for the CIF or the Southern Section. The Mustangs got in on a technicality--the judge ruled that players and parents were not told of their option to appeal, thus denying due process--and no one is debating the fact that they broke the rules by having a player in his fifth year of high school.

In trying to sort it out, that is what some coaches keep coming back to.

"I'm frustrated and upset," said John Goffredo, coach at Crescenta Valley of La Crescenta, whose Falcons were kicked out of the playoffs in the last-minute reshuffling to make room for Muir.

"The kids are very disappointed. I don't know if justice prevailed. I felt sorry for the Muir kids, believe me. But I also feel a coach and the administration is responsible for checking the eligibility of players. I've been coaching here for 16 years and I always kept up on grades and the eligibility of my kids, so I don't have a lot of sympathy about what happens at other places.

"It's like the players are saying, 'I don't get it. We followed the rules and we're out and they didn't and they're still allowed to play?' "

But, as Goffredo also points out, Crescenta Valley, a school known for its assembly-line production of great shooting guards such as Brad Holland, Greg Goorjian and Harvey Mason, could have made the playoffs on its own. Instead, the Falcons lost their final two games, against Hoover and Arcadia, both on last-second shots.

Beyond the immediate impact, there are the long-range implications. Such as:

--Now that one team has had success in using the courts to get back in, will it become commonplace, even expected, for others to try? Officials are naturally concerned that future playoffs could be held in limbo if too many teams are filing for week-of-playoff restraining orders.

Consider last football season. Eleven teams had to forfeits games, seven of which would have made the playoffs if eligible.

--Will the Southern Section have to implement a new rule that says teams can not be forced out of the playoffs after the final week of the regular season? That will mean some will be in because they were caught too late, but at least it would avoid a Crescenta Valley-like situation.

--Do coaches and school officials need malpractice insurance? The original suit that paved the way for Muir to get into the playoffs was a $30 million claim by one player, Eric Johnson, who said, among other things, that his chances for a college scholarship were hurt when the Mustangs were not allowed in post-season play. Two school districts, the principals of all six Pacific League schools and several former Muir administrators were named defendants.

Johnson is the third or fourth player off the Muir bench.

The Aftermath, Part II: The Muir incident, while unusual, is not the first time a team has gone to court to get into the playoffs. The last school to pull it off was Baldwin Park for football in 1978.

The Braves, despite going undefeated in league play, were placed in the Montview League as the third-place entry. Moreover, the decision, which said a player did not have due process in being ruled ineligible, came down on a Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and the team was not given extra time to prepare for a Friday night game.

Baldwin Park, in the senior year of Ron Brown, now a wide receiver for the Rams, and Mike Santiago, now in the New York Mets' organization, ended up losing to Indio, 15-13, on the road on a cold night in the first round of the Southeastern Conference playoffs.

"The distractions were far too much for us to put together a good football game," Coach Trifone (Ty) Pagone recalled. "As I think back, Indio ran a complicated stunt defense, and you had better be ready for that or you are going to get sacked a lot.

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