Going into Friday night's final regular-season game, Westminster's football team figured to hold only a slim hope of making the regional playoffs. Now, the Owls may have no chance at all.
Westminster may have to forfeit last week's 57-7 win over Manchester Valley for using an ineligible player — a junior varsity player Owls coach Brad Wilson said was approved to play by the Carroll County supervisor of athletics.
Wilson said he used a quarterback who had also played in that week's JV game for three snaps in the second half of the Manchester Valley game, which is a violation of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletics Association rule prohibiting football players from participating in more than one game in a single week.
The penalty, under MPSSAA rules, is forfeiting the game, which would drop the Owls to 7-2 and eliminate them from regional playoff contention. At 8-1, the Owls would still be in the running in Class 4A North, but would have to win Friday night's game against South Carroll and Perry Hall would have to lose to Hereford for the Owls to clinch the final playoff berth.
Westminster will appeal the forfeit Friday at 1 p.m. before the MPSSAA appeals board, a process expedited because of the significance of impending playoffs, Ned Sparks, MPSSAA's executive director, said.
Wilson said he wasn't sure of the participation rule, because many varsity teams have played two games in a single week after weather-related postponements, especially this fall. Because the player in question had played in the JV game that week, Wilson sought clarification from Owls athletic director Terry Molloy, who then turned to James Rodriguez, the Carroll County supervisor of athletics. Wilson said Molloy told him that Rodriguez said it was okay to use the JV player in Friday's varsity game.
Molloy and Rodriguez could not be reached for comment.
"I thought I was up front," Wilson said. "I did ask. I got confirmation that I could [use the player in the varsity game]. I was just trying to get him some reps in case we need him for the playoffs. At no time did I break the rule to try to gain an advantage. I asked my boss, and he asked his boss. I don't know where he looked or what he found to tell me that I could do that. Sometimes people make mistakes, but I don't think my players should be held responsible."
Sparks said that while there is a "mandatory sentencing" policy in place initially, the appeals board can overturn it.
"The no-tolerance policy applies across the board for everybody," Sparks said of the initial penalty, "and that's to keep it uniform. The provisions call for everybody to apply the penalties exactly the same, but there's the appeals process to introduce the so-called mitigating circumstances and explanations and the school system can — and I think in this case they might — come in and say, 'You ought to give this more consideration and consider these mitigating circumstances.'"
Wilson, who found out about the forfeit Monday after the violation was reported by Manchester Valley, said he plans to attend the hearing.
"I think they need to hear it from me," Wilson said. "My kids have done everything we've asked them to do, and they've been awesome. I would hate to wake up on Saturday morning if we win and Perry Hall loses and we could have been in, but three snaps after I was told it was OK is the reason why we're out."
Sparks said appeals decisions usually take 24 hours but that he will ask the committee to speed that up if it can, so the team will know the outcome before Friday's 7 p.m. game.