Greeson: Assessing appeal by Signal Mountain Eagles

Greeson: Assessing appeal by Signal Mountain Eagles

October 13th, 2011 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

In this file photo, a child talks to an adult through a fence just before the start of Signal Mountain's season opening home football game. The Eagles were the 2010 State Champions for their division.

Photo by Alex Washburn/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Signal Mountain win its appeal?

Well that shocked exactly no one. When word came down that the TSSAA ordered Signal Mountain to vacate its six high school football wins and put the postseason almost certainly beyond the Eagles' reach, an appeal seemed like a certainty.

That certainty became fact Tuesday when Dr. Tom McCullough told our newspaper's Ward Gossett about their intentions. Now, what's next? As of Wednesday night the TSSAA had not ruled and there does not appear to be a set timeframe.

With an extra day of perspective, let's see if we can cover a collection of points:

* There appears to be hurt feelings that the TSSAA was informed Sept. 22 of the allegations that Signal Mountain's Tim McClendon, a two-way starter, was believed to be ineligible. The TSSAA did not act until last Thursday, meaning even if the Eagles swept their last three games, they were going to need a lot of help to make the postseason. Well, the TSSAA has an entire state to overlook so dropping everything to inform Signal about the allegations seems a little presumptuous. Plus, if the TSSAA made it protocol to call schools as soon as every allegation before an investigation was made and told the school that Player X had eligibility questions, the weekly fallout would be overwhelming. If that was the expected policy, a team, player, coach, fan or custodian that didn't want to face that stud running back at their rival school could call the TSSAA and drop a rumor hoping that the school would hold him out that week.

* There are questions about the Hamilton County Board of Education's role in issuing a hardship waiver that said McClendon was eligible to attend Signal Mountain despite living in the Brainerd zone. Signal administration and Dr. McCullough are putting a lot of their appeal eggs in this basket, even using the less-than-veiled threatening language of "If the TSSAA maintains that board-approved hardships do not establish 'territory,' then there are numerous student athletes in Hamilton County and across Tennessee whose eligibility may be questionable," in Tuesday's release.

Here's one view on the hardship piece: Hamilton County determines which students go to which schools, the schools and ultimately the TSSAA determine if they are eligible to participate in athletics.

* As for the "numerous student athletes in Hamilton County and across Tennessee whose eligibility may be questionable," part of Dr. McCullough's statement, well, that's a blanket quote that may or may not be true. And maybe there are dozens or even hundreds of ineligible student-athletes participating in high school sports in Hamilton County and across the state. But to even hint or rationalize or suggest that one party's mistake is OK because there are possibly or even probably several others making the same mistake doesn't wash. The "everyone else is doing it defense" rarely ever works. If you think that should fly, maybe you should try using the "Everyone else was speeding officer," plea the next time a cop pulls you over for going 75 in a 55.

* That said, if you had the recent history of Signal Mountain's football program, including the summer scrimmage skirmish and the ensuing penalties from that event that drew the ire of the TSSAA for not being tough enough, aren't you going to make 100 percent certain that all of your T's are crossed and your I's are dotted? Especially when the transfer is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds and is one of the most impressive-looking players on the field every Friday night?

* It's a flat-out shame for the seniors on the Signal football team, including McClendon, who almost assuredly did not make the paper-work miscues that have served as the launching point for the TSSAA's investigation.

Who knows how this turns out, but it's been of high interest and it's been filled with heated emotions. I don't know which is more sad, the likely end to the high school football career for a lot of teenagers who worked a lot of hours in an effort to defend a state title or the almost giddyness with which some folks are greeting this news.

Either way, when the appeals finally run their course, there are going to a truck load of tears -- some happy, some sad -- and it's obvious everyone is watching and paying close attention.