Armwood set to answer FHSAA charges Tuesday
TAMPA - Hillsborough County school board attorney Tom Gonzalez said Friday the district will respond to charges made by the Florida High School Athletics Association regarding Armwood High's football program Tuesday and will not request an extension to file. Tampa attorney Peter Hobson filed a letter Thursday with Armwood principal Mike Ippolito asking for an extension on the behalf of the parents of six football players mentioned in the FHSAA's preliminary report on the Hawks' football program. The FHSAA alleges the parents of five players from the Hawks' 2011 state championship squad falsified residency information in order to register at Armwood. The report also mentions five other student-athletes who have transferred to Armwood in 2012 that also could be residency violations. Hobson said more time was needed in order to allow his clients to give their response to the charges.But since FHSAA rules state the student-athletes can only request an appeal after the FHSAA levies sanctions and/or fines for these alleged violations, Gonzalez said the request is coming too soon. "There's a pretty specific process in the (FHSAA) by-laws,'' Gonzalez said. "At this stage, that (an extension) is not part of the process.'' Armwood received the initial findings of the FHSAA investigation May 14 and has 10 business days to respond to the accusations. Two of the five players mentioned in the report from the 2011 squad are underclassmen. These players, as well as the recent transfers in question, were not allowed to take part in Armwood's spring drills or spring jamboree. FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told The Tampa Tribune on Friday if any of the newcomers or underclassmen from last season's squad is ultimately determined to have falsified residency information, they will be declared ineligible for competition at any school for 365 days from the day of the discovery of falsification of information. If the student-athletes made an inadvertent error in registering at Armwood, Dearing said the athletes would be allowed to return to their former schools and compete this fall. Dearing said there's no firm deadline regarding the recent transfers to Armwood but he hoped to have an answer from Ippolito before the end of the school year, June 8. In either case, Dearing said the FHSAA would not request verification from Ippolito of these student-athletes' residency status. He said the FHSAA would take Ippolito's "word on it as a member school.'' Once the FHSAA receives Armwood's response to the five 2011 players mentioned in the initial report, the FHSAA will have 10 business days to hand down penalties, sanctions and fines to Armwood. If any of the 2011 players is determined ineligible, the Hawks would forfeit the game or games they participated in. Since the five in question were members of the team for the entire season, any one of them ruled ineligible would result in Armwood forfeiting its Class 6A state crown and its 15-0 season. Stiffer penalties for Armwood and its football program, such as probation and expulsion from the FHSAA, can also be handed out by the FHSAA. After the FHSAA notifies Armwood of its punishment, Dearing said the student-athletes can then file an appeal to the FHSAA's Sectional Appeals committee. That committee, however, does not meet again until the first week of August. If the sectional committee denies the school's appeal, the school can appeal to the FHSAA Board of Directors. The next scheduled board meeting is the last weekend of September. If the school is eventually found guilty of the charges, the school incurs the cost of the appeals process, as well as the cost of the investigation. Dearing said the investigator charged the FHSAA $7,500. Hobson said the parents of the students in question are likely to appeal the decision rendered by the FHSAA. Parents can also take legal action against the FHSAA at any point during the appeals, but Dearing says history is in the FHSAA's favor. "Participation in extra curricular activities is a privilege, not a right, and you have to abide by the association rules,'' Dearing said. ''We've won every appeals court decision in history.''