Published Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 | 4:40 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 | 6:57 p.m.
Just when it appeared the boys basketball state tournament would start as scheduled Wednesday night, another potential delay emerged.
Western High has decided to file a second appeal to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association that challenges whether it should have to forfeit four games it played with an ineligible player.
“They will come before an independent hearing officer,” NIAA spokesman Donnie Nelson said. “Other than that, I don’t have much to tell you. I don’t know when that will be. Unless it’s tomorrow morning, we could be looking at a delay.”
The news of a second appeal comes less than two hours after judge Stefany Miley threw out a temporary restraining order filed by a Western High player in a hearing at the Regional Justice Center downtown.
When Miley reached her decision, it looked like the tournament would go on as scheduled. The NIAA applauded the resolution at the time.
"I think the judge followed the law," said Paul Anderson, the NIAA's lawyer.
Western finished the regular season 13-3 and second in the Southwest Division, but self-reported the involvement of an ineligible fifth-year player in four games. The NIAA forced Western to forfeit four games, knocking its record down to 9-7 and the team out of the playoffs.
The school appealed the forfeiture for the first time a week ago, but the NIAA stood with its ruling. That's when one of the eligible players brought the situation to court.
Justin Pingel, the lawyer who represented the eligible player, argued that the ineligible player did not contribute significantly — he scored a total of nine points in the four games he played. The NIAA has a clause in its regulations that forfeitures can be overturned if a player is proven to not have affected the outcome.
"Bottom line, you're taking away an opportunity to play in the playoffs and compete for a state championship for these kids when there's an exception to the rule that covers this exactly," Pingel said after the hearing.
Miles ruled in favor of the NIAA because she said the eligible Western player did not have the standing to challenge the decision.
Not everyone in the courtroom was happy. Clark County commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who said he came to the hearing as a "concerned citizen," said it was a disgrace that the Warriors would not be allowed in the playoffs.
"Where is the consideration for the players and the team," Weekly asked. "They didn't know this kid from Adam, so why should they miss out on an opportunity to get a look from a college or a university? Especially for those seniors, it was a chance to win their way out of their situations. It might have been their ticket to go to school or get an education. It just isn't right."
Although Pingel's client stayed in school and didn't attend the hearing, a few parents of players pulled their children out of school to attend.
Sir Washington, a freshman forward for the Warriors, was in attendance to hear the ruling.
"I'm hurt because we should have been in the playoffs," Washington said. "We worked hard. It's disappointing."
If Western wins its appeal, the landscape of the tournament would be drastically different. Spring Valley, who is scheduled to play Palo Verde, would be out.
Palo Verde would instead face Durango. Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley said that while he’d prefer to know which school his team was playing, they would prepare the same either way.
“We need to play our style of basketball and we want to conform whoever to the way we play anyway,” Riley said. “We’d like to know who we’re playing, but we still have to bring it.”
“The guys are excited about playing and we’d love to play tomorrow if we could. There’s no doubt.”
But that may not be possible. Nelson said he was not immediately sure when the playoffs would be re-scheduled if necessary.
It all depends on how long it takes to hear Western’s second appeal.