There’s always two sides to a story

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Everyone makes mistakes, but what took so long and why try to hide it?

Those are the issues hovering over the Florida High School Athletic Association and the fallout over its investigation of the Nease High School football program. Last November, the FHSAA sentenced the Class 4A school to six years restrictive probation and fined the Panthers a record $20,000 for assorted transgressions.

Nease was cited for three violations. The biggie concerned an assistant coach who was accused of giving a player’s father a job. This is considered recruiting, a classic quid pro quo. Play for Nease and I’ll give you a paycheck.

There’s one teeny weenie problem. It’s not true. Nearly two weeks ago, the FHSAA admitted that it found “no evidence” that the violation occurred and furthermore that the accused coach was not interviewed until after he was “implicated.”

So where did the FHSAA’s super sleuths learn their investigative skills? From Mike Nifong?

Aren’t there two sides to every story? What’s more disturbing is the timeline outlined in the press release. On Oct.31, 2006, the FHSAA office was notified of Nease’s alleged violations. An FHSAA field investigator visited the school Nov. 2, submitted findings on Nov. 3 and the three days later, Nov. 6, penalties were assessed.

So let me get this straight. It took a week for the FHSAA to receive a complaint, investigate and tie a noose. No wonder they didn’t get it right.

Nease supporters said they were railroaded. Opponents, pointing out that the Ponte Vedra area school was already on probation for baseball, deserved an even stiffer punishment for wooing so many transfers and not building an athletic program “the right way.”

Anyone who’s followed Florida high school sports saw this perfect storm brewing. For the last decade or so, allegations of recruiting and athletically-motivated transfers have plagued the FHSAA, which has, for the most part, been powerless to stop this trend of unfettered free agency.

In the good ole days, you grew in a neighborhood with a group of kids and all went to the same school — from elementary school all the way through high school. Loyalty prevailed.

Times have changed. Parents often pick and choose in search of the best team, the best coach and the most playing time. If they want a winning public school, they either move into the appropriate school zone or if they don’t want to move, they simply enroll their child in a magnet program to skirt school zoning guidelines. If they choose a private school, they don’t have to move; they merely pay tuition.

The best players often end up at the same schools year after year. State championships are rarely won by a collection of athletes who just happen to grow up together and attend one school. Remember, Nease High did not pick Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow picked Nease. And it was perfectly legal.

Of course, some coaches and parents are more conniving than others. A few cheaters have been busted, but the perceived recruiting rogues usually were bullet-proof, always an arm’s length away from the law. The FHSAA, under pressure, needed a name, a successful high-profile school, to set an example and “level the playing field.”

Nease became the perfect whipping boy. Public. Affluent. Successful.

“We hope the severity of the penalties, which include the single largest fine in the Association’s history, will be an attention getter,” FHSAA Commissioner John A. Stewart said last November.

So much for that plan. Of course, not many people know about the latest chapter in the Nease investigation. There was no press release, at least not a new one. The FHSAA updated its previous release, from Nov. 7, 2006—the one announcing the “major violations”—by simply adding a single paragraph to say they were “amending the findings.”

The FHSAA has not commented publicly. Its supporters will say that Nease still was charged with committing two violations. But a coach living with a player and his father and providing a ride to school were secondary in comparison to the allegations of a job offer to a parent. To suggest otherwise is revisionist history.

Now that history has been re-written, or shall we say, amended, what will the FHSAA do now? If it chooses to do nothing, what message does that send?