Sometimes I wonder why the Michigan High School Athletic Association even bothers to have rules. This is one of those times.
Waterford Mott football coach Chris Fahr has been prohibited from coaching in a preseason scrimmage as well as Mott’s first two regular-season games. He also was banned from coaching in his team’s summer activities for 30 days and can’t coach in the state playoffs should Mott qualify this season or next.
This is the result of MHSAA rules violations related to undue influence for athletic purposes and out-of-season workouts brought to light in a Free Press story published in May.
Many football coaches and athletic administrators I spoke to were hoping the MHSAA would seize the opportunity to do even more when a coach is caught cheating. Some consider Fahr’s punishment a little more than a slap on the wrist.
Twice the MHSAA has levied a two-year ban on coaching, the most severe penalty handed out. The maximum penalty for undue influence violations is a four-year ban, though that has never been imposed.
This was an opportunity for the MHSAA to send a strong message to coaches around the state that it won’t stand for cheating — and it failed miserably.
MHSAA officials have no idea the sense of exasperation coaches around the state experience when it comes to the state of high school athletics and the way some coaches ignore the rules.
It is the MHSAA’s job to create a level playing field for everyone, and the best way it can do that is by severely punishing those who violate its rules, which it clearly has not done in the case of Fahr, a coach who apparently has little regard for such rules.
There’s reason to believe Fahr may have violated his 30-day summer coaching restrictions by helping with 7-on-7 scrimmages in Clarkston on June 21 and 28, according to a person present who told the Free Press but does not want his name used for fear of repercussions.
Fahr, 41, who is in his fifth season as coach at Mott, has not returned calls from the Free Press seeking comment. Neither has Waterford district athletic director Allison Sartorius.
Waterford superintendent Keith Wunderlich told the Free Press this past week: “We worked with MHSAA through a fairly lengthy investigative process and they issued some consequences which we didn’t entirely agree with. Went through that (appeal) process as well. At this point I just want to start a football season. So right now we’re looking forward instead of backward.”
MHSAA rules prohibit football coaches from providing instruction to more than four players at a time from season’s end to the Sunday after Memorial Day. The Free Press reported in May that Fahr had been behind organized workouts long before May, and that he and freshman football coach Nick Linseman also made attempts to recruit players from other schools.
The MHSAA has a rule that prohibits “use of undue influence for athletic purposes” to “secure or encourage” students to enroll in a school. This means coaches cannot recruit players from other schools at any level.
Tom Rashid, associate director of the MHSAA, investigated the charges against Fahr, but last week refused to discuss specific charges or what he uncovered in his investigation.
The Waterford School District fired Linseman and the MHSAA also barred him from coaching in the playoffs for the next two years should he land another coaching job.
The MHSAA’s punishment to Fahr left Linseman puzzled.
“I know that the things that we did were not the right way to do it, but I feel my punishment should match his,” Linseman told the Free Press. “We did the exact same thing. So, if I’m fired, I don’t see how he’s not. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how it works.”
Wunderlich was asked by the Free Press whether the firing of Linseman was fair considering Fahr’s punishment. “Given the circumstances, yes,” Wunderlich said.
While it’s unclear what the MHSAA determined were violations of undue influence since the MHSAA and Mott reports were not made available, it’s fair to question the thoroughness of the MHSAA’s investigation.
Among the allegations found in the Free Press reporting was that Fahr asked former West Bloomfield player Eddy Wilson to practice with Mott following the 2012 season and asked him to transfer to Mott, according to Wilson. Wilson is now a sophomore at Purdue.
Rashid told the Free Press that Wilson’s mother said Fahr did not attempt to recruit her son, but he admitted the MHSAA never contacted Wilson.
Wilson told the Free Press that Fahr called him after the initial story was published in May and asked him to post something online, basically to change his story. But Wilson refused and reiterated to the Free Press that Fahr tried to recruit him.
The Free Press also reported an incident in which Pontiac athletic director Lee Montgomery saw multiple Pontiac players in an Oakland Press photo gallery last August wearing Mott gear for a 7-on-7 game.
Pontiac’s Marquan Cureton said he got word from Fahr, through a former Mott player, to join the workouts at Mott. Daniel Lenox of Pontiac also participated.
Mott officials told the MHSAA that the players showed up on their own, asking to work out with Mott. Cureton and Lenox told the Free Press that the MHSAA never contacted them and that they were encouraged by Fahr to attend.
The Free Press also reported in May that there were Facebook posts between an account bearing the name of Fahr and an Avondale athlete, but Mott officials told the MHSAA the athlete initiated contact with Fahr. Avondale AD Keith Gust maintains a Mott coach made the first contact.
Though he said he was not involved in the investigation, Wunderlich said he thinks the process was thorough.
“Absolutely,” he said. “MHSAA required a lot of documentation and paperwork and meetings, and I know our athletic director had numerous communications with them, both by e-mail and by phone, and it seemed like they went over every single point very thoroughly.”
MHSAA executive director Jack Roberts frequently talks about good sportsmanship. What is more paramount to sportsmanship than playing by the rules?
Fahr, whose teams have made the state playoffs the last two seasons, told the Oakland Press earlier this month that his situation was “unfortunate” and “unfair.” He added: “Is this what high school football has come to?”
Yes, this is what high school football has come to. Coaches cheat and the MHSAA does little about it.
Tear up the rule book.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.