OIA went by the book, but that doesn’t make it a good read

Legal proceedings include a lot of talk about precedent … you know, the idea that because something was ruled upon a certain way in the past, it should be judged that way again. Precedent carries a lot of weight in court, but often goes directly against the adage that failing to learn from history means repeating mistakes.

Many of us — especially those who follow sports — are more interested in the unprecedented. New stuff, breaking ground, breaking records. Wow us with the never seen before.

Like this eye-opener at yesterday’s Kahuku vs. Everybody Else festivities at Circuit Court: According to testimony, 21 out of 23 principals of Oahu Interscholastic Association schools made it to a meeting with one day’s notice.

The last time we remember DOE administrators moving that fast was … well … never.

The principals mobilized at lightning speed to meet on Friday for a noble cause. It was after the OIA’s rules committee determined Thursday that the Red Raiders had forfeited playoff games because an ineligible student-athlete played.

The full body agreed to meet “in the interest of Kahuku.” That’s what Dwight Toyama, the executive director of the OIA said. “That was (Kahuku’s) opportunity to appeal and overturn the ruling of the committee,” he added.

But this doesn’t add up.

According to the OIA, a rule is a rule. It didn’t matter that Kahuku had turned itself in. The penalty for an ineligible player is clear, forfeiting the game. And there’s plenty of … wait for it now … precedent.

What exactly was the opportunity here in front of the full body of the OIA principals? How could they entertain an appeal when their bylaws are so clear? Everyone knows the difference between “shall” and “may.” According to the rules, the penalty “shall” be forfeiting the game.

We’re told this was about principals with principles. But, undoubtedly, the short-notice clearing of the calendars was also so the OIA could say it provided due process.

SO GIVE it the sniff test before you buy. Kahuku won its first playoff game Oct. 22, and the mysterious anonymous phone tip about the ineligible fringe player and his obscure background came around that time. Why not earlier in the season? Someone clearly wanted to knock Kahuku out of the state tournament.

Sorry conspiracy theorists, it’s not a concerted effort by the OIA (although its overly simplistic and rigid rules don’t help), and the red “Enemy of the State” shirts are a bit much. But sometimes it’s hard to not believe there’s a crabs-in-the-bucket syndrome going on here, just as there was when Saint Louis was winning too many Prep Bowls in a row.

It boils down to a chasm between the letter of the OIA bylaws and the spirit of things like compassion, common sense and judgment. If the league truly cares about the student-athletes, it should revise its rules to allow for these values to come into play. Punishment should fit the crime and it clearly doesn’t here.

There are different kinds of ineligible players. This guy was a first-year football player whose rare and brief appearances in games had no affect on anything other than, we’re told, his self-esteem. Kahuku coach Reggie Torres tells us the young man’s grades and attitude improved dramatically since he became a member of the football team.

Maybe the Red Raiders can take consolation in that there was a Hawaii high school athlete 25 years ago who thought his world had crumbled because he’d been ruled ineligible to play in the state tournament, even after a court appeal. That athlete, Gib Arnold, debuts Friday as the University of Hawaii basketball coach.

THERE’S A SIMPLE fix to this mess.

Kahuku could play a game against the winner of the state tournament. Torres is for it, but only if it is sanctioned by the OIA and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association; otherwise, all of the Kahuku underclassmen could be ineligible for next season.

Chris Chun, the HHSAA director, said such a game would devalue the state championship. (Isn’t it already, with Kahuku out?) He added that it would create Title IX complications, because it would lengthen the football season. When countered with the possibility of profits from such a game (which would be huge) benefiting girls sports, he had no comment.

You know what, never mind.

We wouldn’t want to do anything that’s without precedent.

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