The emotional backlash over last week's disqualification of Central Catholic wrestler Cristian Dominguez was something we haven't seen in this area in a very long time. And, as we're finding out, the school was faced with the difficult decision to disqualify its own wrestler – a situation exacerbated by the quick sequence of events between an attempted home invasion robbery, the trip to the hospital and Friday’s wrestling meet.
It comes down to a basic tenet in high school sports, one that has seen decisions on player eligibility decided by where a player lives or goes to school. Each section, indeed, each school, plays by a slightly different set of rules.
To further illustrate that point I submit the girls' basketball team at Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School.
The Dragons are the defending California State Open Division champion, and after finishing the regular season with a 23-4 record and a No. 23 national ranking were poised to fast break through the North Coast Section playoffs and perhaps make another Open Division run.
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But school officials made a clerical error, one they later self-reported. Instead of designating their Dec. 11 game against Oakland Tech as a non-counting scrimmage, the paperwork submitted for the contest indicated it was a regular season game. So at the end of the regular season, O'Dowd had played 27 contests instead of the 26 allowed under state rules.
North Coast Section rules state the penalty for playing too many games as disqualification from section-level postseason play. After appealing the decision to NCS Commissioner Gil Lemmon, including forwarding a plan that would have allowed the Dragons to be seeded into the NorCal open division field despite missing the section playoffs, O'Dowd's season was ruled to be over.
Here's the rub. If Bishop O'Dowd was a member of the Sac-Joaquin Section it still would be playing.
Under SJS rules, the penalty for playing one too many games is forfeiture of the final regular season contest and the reduction of the following season's schedule by two games, but no playoff restrictions. Dragons, play on.
This situation again underscores the need for the California Interscholastic Federation to come up with one set of rules for the entire state, not separate constitutions drawn-up by each of its 10 sections. There is a glaring need to standardize issues such as the one faced by Bishop O'Dowd, as well as other rules regarding transfers, length of practice seasons, basic eligibility and (let's face it) it's ridiculous that a fall sport in one section is a winter or spring sport in another.
The O’Dowd situation was an example of the different rules governing different sections under the CIF umbrella. The Dominguez case is an example of how schools can choose to enforce their own rules.
I have no doubt there are schools that would have let Dominguez wrestle despite the lack of a doctor’s clearance. They would have looked the other way, perhaps chasing a document of clearance while the meet was taking place, all the time violating their own rules of eligibility while exposing themselves to a major liability risk. Central Catholic did not.
And if Bishop O'Dowd were located just 40 miles east, in Tracy, or 35 miles north, in Vallejo, just over the NCS-SJS border, the Dragons still would be breathing fire.