One of these days, people around high school sports had feared, the lack of a modern, comprehensive eligibility system was going to haunt the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
Yesterday was that day.
As such, it is hard to know what to be most disappointed about: The lack of a safety net to catch a so-called "clerical" error, or the inflexibility in dealing with it that stunningly cost No. 1-ranked Kahuku High its football postseason.
Either way, with Kahuku yanked from the postseason just 7 hours before last night’s OIA championship game due to an ineligible player, the ramifications will be felt far beyond the proud, tight-knit North Shore communities devastated by the sanctions.
Unbeaten (10-0) Kahuku’s absence will also hit home in the upcoming Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championships where not only does the HHSAA lose what figured to be its top-seeded team, but its leading gate attraction and the hopes of a lucrative Kahuku-Saint Louis rematch.
Some estimates yesterday put the combined loss to the OIA and HHSAA at $50,000 to $100,000 had the unbeaten Red Raiders made the state title game. OIA president Meredith Maeda didn’t put a dollar figure to it but acknowledged it had the potential to be a "big-time loss."
No small consideration at any price for the cash-strapped public schools who were kept afloat last year by the Save Our Sports community fundraising initiative.
An OIA press release noted in passing, "these type of issues have happened in the past…"
And that is part of the problem. Late-hour ineligibility has hit Moanalua and Roosevelt most notably in recent years. Though they concerned grades rather than the eligibility clock at issue this time and other factors, not the "clerical" error blamed yesterday, they would all seem to point toward the need for a better system. A more thorough process of checks and cross-checking for one.
What happened with Kahuku, when a player’s ninth-grade entry date was claimed to have been erroneously entered as 2007, rather than ’06, might have been flagged by precisely the kind of electronic tracking system officials said has been discussed but not yet implemented.
In the Moanalua and Roosevelt cases it reportedly took teachers who noticed something amiss to alert officials to the ineligibility of players. This time it required "an anonymous caller" to prompt the investigation and a review of transcripts, officials said.
That’s not the line of defense you want to be dependent upon when there is this much at stake and, apparently, so little flexibility in meting out of punishment.
If it was truly a clerical error — something "falling through the cracks" involving just one reserve player with negligible impact on the outcome of games as officials maintained — then summarily ending the Red Raiders’ season was hardly the best decision for all concerned.
This is the kind of situation where you’d like to see some discretion allowed for on a case-by-case basis with the punishment better suiting the transgression. Strip Kahuku of an unbeaten season, remove it as an OIA title contender and punish it with a poor seed. But banishing the Red Raiders from the postseason altogether?
An OIA spokesman said, "We want to learn by our mistakes and what we can do better so this doesn’t happen again."
There is, indeed, much to be learned from this painful episode. Some of it a little too late. And all of it at too high of a price.