The Seffner (Fla.) Armwood football program was informed Monday that it has been found to be in violation of major residency rules and could be forced to forfeit its Class 6A state championship and undefeated season.
As first reported by the Tampa Tribune, the Florida High School Athletic Association found Armwood to have had five players in violation following its near six-month investigation.
The Hawks, who finished the 2011 season No. 3 in the RivalsHigh 100 national ranking, will have 10 business days to respond to the initial report or the school will be facing the forfeiture of its season and the likelihood of major fines.
"With disregard to the rules, some parents are trying to get their children to go play football at Armwood," FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told TBO.com. "I don't know why they're doing it - maybe because they want to get their kids a scholarship - but according to our investigation, they're doing it."
The FHSAA initial report was delivered to Armwood principal Mike Ippolito on Monday morning. The paper reported that the initial report found no evidence of Armwood coaches or parents committing recruiting violations under the current 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 then 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, but he told RivalsHigh in previous inquires regarding the situation that he and his staff would 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."
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.
Dearing confirmed to the paper that Lightsey was found to be one of the five players in violation of the rules. Lightsey started all 15 games for Armwood and as such the rules state that a forfeiture of any games he dressed and participated in would be standard punishment.
The findings, according to Dearing, showed readily available discrepancies in the records that parents of players presented to the school district.
"It didn't take us any time at all to determine these records have been falsified in order to gain enrollment at Armwood," Dearing told the paper. "I want to give you an example, but I don't want to give away the (full) story.
"Let's just say a kid and the parents come in and enroll and the parents produce a lease document with a home address that's in the Armwood zone. But we can very easily see that the original name on the lease is whited out, another name is added in using a different type of writing, or handwritten instead of typed. It's stuff like that."
The final report will be made available following the 10 day waiting period and will determine the sanctions and fines.
Armwood will not lose its final ranking in the RivalsHigh 100.