Reigning champs ruled ineligible for postseason |

Reigning champs ruled ineligible for postseason

Chuck Hildebrand

Jerry Hughes described Bishop Gorman as defiant last week after the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association declared the Gaels’ boys basketball program ineligible for the upcoming postseason.

The NIAA’s executive director may be about to find out just how defiant Gorman can be, if the mood of the school’s rooting section Friday night was any indication.

Gorman students chanted “We got lawyers,” often during the Gaels’ 82-74 win against Durango on Friday night in Las Vegas. A legal challenge to the NIAA Board of Control’s ruling is expected, and the players are far from convinced that they will not be allowed to defend their 4A state title.

“We’re not going to lie down and say we’re not going to playoffs,” the Gaels’ Marcus Lawrence said. “We’re still playing for first. We’re going to win and make sure if we do play in the playoffs. We want to be a No. 1 seed coming in the playoffs. We all have hope. We don’t doubt ourselves.”

Board of control member Bill Garis acknowledged on Friday that the NIAA may have to be ready for a legal challenge to Thursday’s ruling.

“They’ll be very specific,” he said. “We have to write every rule as best we can to be lawyer-proof. Bottom line is our schools have to respect the authority of (their) own governing body. The governing body is the school (and) the school has to uphold its own rules. That’s what we expect of the schools.”

At a special meeting last Thursday in Las Vegas, the NIAA Board of Control found Gorman – which won the 4A state title, its fourth in nine years, last season – to be in violation of an NIAA rule requiring schools under investigation to cooperate fully with the inquiry.

According to an NIAA press release, the action means Gorman will be permitted to fulfill the remainder of its regular-season schedule, but is ineligible to participate in postseason competition. The probation will last only until the end of the current season.

“After a thorough question and answer session with Bishop Gorman’s administration during Thursday’s meeting, the board came to the conclusion that Bishop Gorman has been institutionally involved from the beginning of the Jonathan Tavernari eligibility case in challenging the NIAA,” the NIAA release read. “It was further the opinion of the board that Bishop Gorman has refused to honor the reasonable requests of the NIAA’s executive director and its board members, and to abide by the rules and regulations of the association as outlined in their signed membership application.”

The NIAA declared Tavernari, a Brazilian transfer student who already has committed to play college basketball for Brigham Young, ineligible at the start of the season because he wasn’t living with a parent or guardian, as required by NIAA rules. Tavernari challenged that rule in court and has been playing for the Gaels since winning an injunction in December.

“The NIAA has certain expectations of its member schools to uphold the rules and regulations of the association,” Hughes was quoted as saying in the press release. “Bishop Gorman continued to defy the NIAA’s request today in terms of having all personnel available to respond to all inquiries from the board. Based on the information provided at the special meeting, I feel the board acted appropriately with this case.”

One reason the board of control made its finding of defiance was that Gorman coach Grant Rice was not at the hearing Thursday. On Friday, Rice had this to say:

“It’s been an interesting 24 hours. Our guys are ready to play. No matter what’s going on, they come ready to play. We’re just taking it game by game. We want to finish out the league strong. If we win tonight we’ll finish out league in a strong way and worry about the rest later.”

The board of control also issued official warnings to the Gorman, Bonanza and Durango athletic programs, all of which have athletes who are involved in litigation against the NIAA.

“Should any of their athletic programs be deemed at any time through the 2006-2007 school year to be in noncompliance with NIAA regulations, a more stringent sanction could be later applied,” the NIAA release read.

Gorman, a private Catholic school, has been at the center of a number of controversies in recent years, many of them having to do with athletes’ eligibility.

– correspondent Nick Christensen contributed to this report.

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