It appears that high school football teams will need lawyers as well as coaches standing on the sidelines in light of the recent officiating snafu during the Illinois Class 7A state semifinal game last weekend.
In the crucial final play of regulation, referees applied the wrong penalty when assessing an intentional grounding infraction against Fenwick High allowing their opponent Plainfield North to attempt a field goal. Their successful three-point score tied the game setting up an overtime situation in which Plainfield won the contest sending them to the Illinois State Championship Game.
But here lies the rub. According to the National Federation of High School rules, the intentional grounding penalty that occurred while time expired should have resulted in a loss of down and not the turning of the ball over to Plainfield for an untimed down with no seconds on the clock.
On the final play of the fourth quarter in today’s IHSA [Illinois High School Association] Class 7A Semifinal Football game between Fenwick High School and Plainfield North High School, an error was made by the officiating crew, which resulted in an untimed down being awarded to Plainfield North.
On the untimed down, Plainfield North tied the contest with a field goal and then went on to win the game 18-17 in overtime. Per Rule 3-3-4 in the 2016 NFHS Football Rules Book, the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded.
The IHSA also said that the decision, however erroneous, was also final.
IHSA by-law 6.033 clearly states that “the decisions of game officials shall be final; protests against the decision of a game official shall not be reviewed by the Board of Directors.”
Fenwick coach Gene Nudo insists that his team should have won the game because the referee’s decision was wrong by rule definition and not by an officiating judgement. Though the IHSA initially granted an appeal to Fenwick, they retracted it and later denied Nudo the request. Not willing to let the injustice stand, Fenwick summoned the Circuit Court of Cook County and filed a lawsuit.
The case slated for Wednesday will determine which team will go to the state championship. Fenwick claims precedents exist to justify their legal action citing a 2008 decision in Mississippi as well as another IHSA incident in a 2008 Illinois state wrestling tournament.
The outcome of the conflict now lies with Lady Justice, in this case, Judge Kathleen Kennedy imbued with making the legal ruling.
So the obvious moral of this sorry modern day high school sports story is: “It’s not who wins the game but who has the best lawyer.”
Update, 12:01 p.m. EST: The judge has ruled in favor of Plainfield North.