Will OHSAA make rule change to ensure that botched calls, false officials’ ejection reports do not result in player suspensions?

By Jeff Louderback

When Cincinnati Purcell Marian and Harvest Prep tip off Thursday at noon for the Division III boys basketball semifinal, it will mark the beginning of Final Four action in each of Ohio’s four divisions, followed by all four state championship games on Saturday.

If an official whistles two technicals on a player or coach in any of those Final Four contests – and video footage indicates that one or both of those calls are inaccurate and/or how the plays actually unfold on the court do not match with what is written in the officials’ ejection report – will the OHSAA rescind the suspension? Can they? And will the OHSAA establish a protocol for reviewing ejections to ensure that game outcomes are settled by coaches and players rather than officials?

Those are questions being asked in the aftermath of what happened in the final 1:24 of the Centerville-Springfield regional semifinal at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Centerville won the game, but senior point guard Ryan Marchal was inexplicably whistled for two technicals in a 35-second span over the game’s last 1:24.

OHSAA rules mandate that any player or coach who receives two technicals is ejected from the game, and is hit with a two-game suspension. Centerville’s athletic department filed an appeal, and video footage clearly shows that the officials’ ejection report does not reflect what actually happened in those plays. Still, the OHSAA denied the appeal, and Marchal was not permitted to play in the Elks’ regional final last Saturday against unbeaten and top-ranked Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller.

Video footage showed that the technicals, which were delivered by two different officials, were unwarranted as Marchal did not do what is claimed by lead official Eric Brown in the ejection report he submitted to the OHSAA.

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“I’m disappointed in the OHSAA because it’s an organization that’s supposed to represent the best interest of the kids,” Centerville head coach Brook Cupps said. “They do a good job 95 percent of the time, but in this situation, they didn’t make a decision that was in the best interest of Ryan Marchal.”

Sources close to the action (Cintas Center has floor seats) heard one official say “nothing, nothing, nothing” after the call that led to the first technical, which seemingly indicates that he felt there was no reason to call an infraction. After the second technical was whistled, the same sources say they heard the same official ask his fellow crew member who called the second technical, “Do you know what you’re doing? That is his second technical (indicating the consequences Marchal would face if that second T was indeed called). The official who blew the whistle reportedly responded, “I don’t care.”

After he learned that Centerville’s appeal was denied, Cupps had the heart-wrenching task of telling Marchal, who was the leader of a well-balanced and senior-laden Elks roster, that he would not play against Moeller.

“I sat down with Ryan, and that was the hardest conversation I’ve had with a player in my career as a coach,” Cupps added. “It was an emotional moment because they (the officials and the OHSAA) took away an opportunity to play in the regional final from a player who deserved to be on the court. I wanted Ryan to have that opportunity because it’s something he earned.”

Cupps assured that he will maintain dialogue with the OHSAA. He would like to see the development of a formal appeals process that includes reviewing video footage of calls where players are assessed multiple technicals in tournament games, ejected and subsequently suspended. The technicals called against Marchal were not justified, Cupps said, and that is supported by the video footage.

“Watching it live, and on video, it’s evident Ryan did nothing to get either technical,” Cupps said. “This is why changes must be made so this does not happen to another school and another kid. What if it was your child? What if it was my child? I’ve spoken with Jerry Snodgrass and want to make sure that dialogue continues, and a solution is determined for the future.”

The OHSAA has mostly been tight-lipped about the calls in question, the suspension and how the officials’ ejection report does not reflect what video footage shows actually happened on the court. Interviews were repeatedly requested with OHSAA executive director Jerry Snodgrass and senior director of officiating Beau Rugg through OHSAA spokesperson Tim Stried, but instead the organization released this written statement by Snodgrass:

“The OHSAA Officiating department includes specific ‘Directors of Development’ put in place 11 years ago to oversee the officials in each sport – previously ‘District Officials’ Secretaries would oversee the officials of ALL sports in their respective districts.  Those officials are responsible for assisting with tournament assignments, officials’ education and recruiting new officials.  The Officiating Department AND the Director of Development for basketball officials routinely view video of games throughout the year for a number of reasons that include educating officials (and in some cases coaches).

“The OHSAA is bound by its General Sports Regulations to play all games under NFHS Playing Rules for basketball.  The NFHS Rules are reviewed and adopted annually and include representation from each ‘Section.’

“NFHS Rules do not permit the use of video replay to overturn or correct any calls made by an official (with the 1 very defined exception at the state tournament for an end of the game shot).  As a result, no call made by an official is subject to appeal based upon video evidence since it is not permitted to be used.  There are MANY reasons for this and much can be answered in this document: https://ohsaa.org/Portals/0/ReboundersReport/VideoReplay.pdf

“Officials in all OHSAA Sponsored sports are required to submit reports on all ejections detailing the reasons for ejection.  Officials are encouraged to submit reports for a variety of other issues, including ‘sporting behavior’, site issues, as well as other positive issues that take place in a contest and are based upon the actions that occur during the game. Officials’ reports are due within 48 hours after an ejection takes place.”

The statement did not address the disparity between the officials’ ejection report and the video footage, but the written statement did include, “The OHSAA does not issue public comment on any call made by an official,” so it is unknown if Brown was disciplined for inaccuracies in his report that were brought to light by the video footage.

Brown is the official who called the second technical. He writes that the first technical involved Marchal taking a few steps and making contact with Springfield’s #4 (insinuating that Marchal was instigating a fight). The video footage features Marchal getting up after he was tied up by Springfield defenders, taking a short step, looking up and inadvertently brushing against #4, who either accidentally lost his balance and tumbled to the ground, or demonstrated an Oscar-worthy flop.

In the second technical, after the Springfield player fouled Davis Mumaw (who had grabbed a rebound), Brown wrote that Marchal knocked the ball out of the hands of the Springfield player and Mumaw. The video footage illustrates that Marchal gave Mumaw, his teammate, a congratulatory slap on the arm, which dislodged the ball. The Springfield player never had possession of the ball, and there is no visible sign of a potential altercation.

According to the OHSAA Handbook, the organization is committed to, among other objectives, providing rulings that are swift, fair, consistent and impartial; and providing unparalleled leadership and customer service to our various constituents that is objective, responsive and inclusive.

In the same handbook, The Ejection Policy dictates that:

“Following an ejection, the official that gave the ejection is required to make contact with the Athletic Director or Principal of the violator’s school to advise the administration of the ejection. The official files a report ONLINE in the myOHSAA system with the OHSAA. “

In bold and capitalized letters at the end of the document reads:

“ALL PLAYER and COACH EJECTIONS ARE FINAL AND NOT PERMITTED TO BE APPEALED per the OHSAA’s Board of Directors.”

The OHSAA provided statements that were contradictory and confusing when the organization was questioned about the Marchal suspension.

When contacted by email to set up an interview via phone or in person, and asked about the Marchal suspension the morning after the game, Stried responded via email with “….we have not seen the video yet and won’t be able to process the ejection report until next week. We are conducting the girls basketball state tournament this week.”

Centerville faced Moeller on Saturday, two days after the email.

Stried responded late Friday afternoon via email that, “our officiating department staff has now watched that entire game to review the calls. At this time, the two technical foul calls will stand and be enforced.” Are appeals allowed, or aren’t they?

On Friday, within minutes of the Tweet from ESPN’s Jay Bilas criticizing the OHSAA, Snodgrass responded to Bilas with:

The OHSAA promotes its intention to offer fair treatment of student-athletes, yet in those bold capital letters, its handbook reads, “ALL PLAYER and COACH EJECTIONS ARE FINAL AND NOT PERMITTED TO BE APPEALED per the OHSAA’s Board of Directors.” Even if an official writes false information in his ejection report. And even if video footage indicates that the official’s ejection report does not reflect what actually happened on the court.

On St. Patrick’s Day, another email from Stried in response to follow-up questions reads, “I was incorrect to say that we wouldn’t be able to watch the video until next week. Our office did, in fact, watch the video, but we cannot change judgement calls by officials. The only time we would reverse a call is if there is a case of a misidentified player being given a technical foul and/or ejected.”

So that means all player and coach ejections are not final and they can be appealed under certain circumstances? It appears the OHSAA is even confused about its own rules.

Pat Houseworth is not surprised about the OHSAA’s lack of transparency, and the organization’s contradictory statements and objectives.

Houseworth officiated 80-plus seasons of baseball, basketball and football for the OHSAA – including an abundance of post-season games – before he was suspended for his social media activities. An outspoken Vietnam veteran off the field who retired after a long career as Environmental Health Director at the Van Wert County Health Department, the 69-year-old Houseworth was a licensed crew chief during his final years in football. He was elected by his fellow umpires of the Midwest Buckeye Umpires Association out of Van Wert as its President from 2011-2017. There are few personalities with more experience in and knowledge about officiating and the OHSAA than Houseworth.

“The first technical, I can see a mistake being made because of the flop by the Springfield player. There was zero excuse for the second technical,” Houseworth said after reviewing footage of the calls. “As an official, you are taught to avoid ejections unless there is no choice. For example, if there are punches thrown, or if contact is made between a player or coach and an official.

“It’s important for crew members to communicate to make sure the right calls are made. These officials simply made the wrong calls,” he added. “There is no oversight of the OHSAA. When they say that all ejections are final and cannot be appealed – even if there are untrue details in the report, and the truths that are shown in the video footage – then changes need to be made because that is not fair or objective.”

The OHSAA, Houseworth says, should be more interested in “stepping up for the kid instead of protecting themselves, which is what they did considering that the information in the report does not reflect what really happened.”

Not only should the OHSAA adopt a formal appeals process that ensures that the officials’ ejection report matches the video footage, Houseworth believes, but also the organization should update and improve its selection and assignment process of officials.

“In the postseason, because of how officials are chosen, they often work with guys they have not been paired with. That is a prescription for poorly officiated games,” Houseworth said. “The Centerville-Springfield game is a prime example, and it cost the Elks their starting senior point guard in a regional final against one of the best programs in the state.”

Once an official makes the decision to eject a player or coach, it is usually backed 100 percent by the OHSAA, Houseworth explained.

“In all my years and sports, at the OHSAA level, I only ejected three players and no coaches,” he said. “I’ve heard of ejections being rescinded, but those are few and far between.”

According to Houseworth, the OHSAA has a complete list of every ejection that is handed down by school, sport, level, and official. Dayton Sports Huddle requested access to that list, but the OHSAA did not comply.

Could the OHSAA have rescinded Marchal’s suspension considering the circumstances of the report not matching the actual game action on the video footage? “Yes,” Houseworth said, adding that they just chose to ignore the discrepancies in the report and the footage.

What is especially relevant now is whether or not the OHSAA will explore and adopt the creation of an appeals process and the thorough review of calls that lead to ejections and two-game suspensions. Stried nor Snodgrass responded to questions about the organization’s willingness to implement that change. It would be a worthwhile decision, Cupps believes.

“Every kid’s high school career is going to end, but no kid’s career should end or be interrupted like what happened to Ryan,” Cupps said. “I understand that ours was not the only basketball game going on since there were boys and girls tournaments across the state, but I don’t believe it would take a lot of time to put a system in place to review ejection reports and footage, and make sure that unjust suspensions from incorrect calls do not stand.”

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