March 30, 2012

Armwood may be forced to forfeit 2011 season

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

The Seffner (Fla.) Armwood football team wrapped up its season with a state title and the No. 3 spot in the RivalsHigh 100 on Dec. 17 with a win over Miami (Fla.) Central at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

Now, three full months later, it may have to vacate one of the best seasons in school history - and pay what could be a big fine.

As first reported by Bill Ward of, the Florida High School Athletics Association is still only "85-percent complete" with its investigation into residency violations levied against the program, but it appears the school will be found to be in violation of the state bylaws.

"Everybody is innocent until proven guilty," FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told the paper. "But if the evidence we have right now is accurate, valid and correct, there have been several major violations; there is no doubt about that. All we have are these witness statements, documents as to when people moved in (to a home) or when they got their Florida driver's license, and in many instances, they don't balance with the enrollment dates of the students at the school.

"Either there is a lack of coordination between the student services department and the athletic department at the school, or someone is ignoring the rules."

Armwood requested the FHSAA investigation before the playoffs began in mid-November to clarify the eligibility of Jack Lightsey, an offensive lineman who moved to the district after playing for Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips as a junior. The investigation has expanded to several other players who transferred to the school after playing the previous year at another program. The state bylaws note that the families needed to make a "full and complete move" from one district to the other, which leaves areas for appeals in the process.

Armwood coach Sean Callahan declined comment on the investigation this week, but he told RivalsHigh in previous inquires regarding the situation that he and his staff will be found to be clear of wrongdoing.

"Armwood football has done nothing wrong," Callahan said in November after a 38-35 win over Bradenton (Fla.) Lakewood Ranch. "We have nothing to hide and will go out of our way to help the FHSAA secure the facts."

If the state finds Armwood used ineligible players, the school likely will be forced to vacate its 15 wins and its state and district titles. Even more, the school faces what could be a serious fine.

While Armwood's staff may be found clear of violations, the best case for the school is that it will reduce the amount of the fines it must pay. It will likely not save the forfeiture of the season.

Fines often are based on a dollar amount for each game a violation occurred. In this case, that would mean all 15 games. With fine amount ranging from $100 to $2,500, Armwood could be facing a fine as high as $37,500.

The variance in the fine is loosely defined but determined to be if the school knowingly used an ineligible player or if it was given false information by the parents.

"The general rule we use (to determine the fine level) is 'did you know or should you have known,' " Dearing told the paper. "If it's determined that there's no way the school could have known - you know, the parent was bringing the kid to school, he wasn't riding a bus and they hid it pretty well, the fine drops to $100 a game."

Armwood was granted clearance to play in the state playoffs after a preliminary investigation showed that the school had gone through the proper paces to validate the residency requirements of Lightsey - a responsibility that the FHSAA primarily places on the athletic director at each school before the state association would get involved.

Dearing said the he expects the investigation to conclude in another month when the FHSAA will deliver its letter of findings to the school.

"We want everyone playing on the same level playing field and Armwood needs to follow all the same rules as all the other schools in Hillsborough County and all other schools in the state who are members of our association," he said. "Part of our job is to make sure schools comply with those rules so that nobody unfairly builds some kind of powerhouse.

"There's no free agency in high school sports."

If Armwood is found in violation of eligibility rules it would mark the second time in as many seasons that a state finalist in Florida has been forced to vacate its victories. In 2010, state runner-up and No. 21-ranked in the RivalsHigh 100, Dr. Phillips was forced to turn its 14-1 season into an 0-15 due to violations with a back-up player being ineligible to play at the school.

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