The Southport boys’ basketball team has been reinstated to compete in the 2020 tournament.
Coach Eric Brand has been suspended from Jan.1, 2020, through the end of the season, including the tournament.
Call it a compromise.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association was scheduled to meet with administrators from Southport on Wednesday as the school was set to appeal its tournament ban that was handed down by the IHSAA in November.
The ban stemmed from Brand’s violation of undue influence for making a $5,548 payment on behalf of a student referred to as N.P.L., a transfer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perry Township accepted the payment on behalf of the student in order to remain compliant with U.S. immigration law and meet the requirements of an F-1 student visa.
Southport originally planned to suspend Brand for two games. IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox called that punishment “woefully short” of expectations and banned Southport from the tournament, in addition to probation for the school and Brand’s two-game suspension.
The Perry Township school system filed an appeal, calling the IHSAA’s decision to ban Southport from the tournament a “draconian punishment” that is “arbitrary, unfair and illogical.” Southport said the IHSAA either overlooked or misrepresented the circumstances around Brand’s involvement. Brand said he had known that writing the check would make N.P.L. ineligible to play on the varsity team.
“Simply put, this is not a story of basketball recruiting,” Southport said in its appeal statement. “It is the story of a caring community banding together to support a person in crisis. The decision of the commissioner to banish Southport High School from the tournament – when Southport obtained absolutely no competitive advantage from the mistakes made – is arbitrary, unfair, illogical, and this aspect of punishment should be reversed.”
But on Tuesday, the evening before the appeal, Cox said he received an email from Southport’s legal counsel with a plea to mediate the situation before starting the appeals process.
“When there is a hearing for both parties, whether it is an eligibility hearing for a student or a grievance of a school, both parties submit the evidence,” Cox said. “The IHSAA submits their case to the affected party and those submissions are distributed to both sides. Both sides can look at what has been submitted. I can’t speak for Perry Township, but they were able to look at the case and felt it would be in their best interest to mediate rather than go through a hearing process.”
The compromise was to reinstate Southport for the tournament and suspend Brand, the second-year coach, from the start of January through the end of the season. Brand has served his original two-game suspension with assistant Jordan Dever filling in as interim coach for victories over Perry Meridian and Seymour.
Southport has six games in December that Brand can coach, starting with Ben Davis on Saturday, before he starts his suspension in January.
“We felt like there could be a compromise, but there had to be a suspension of the coach,” Cox said.