It is a story we hear all too often in amateur athletics when rules are broken and punishments are meted out.
I was in Louisville in February of 2016, about 24 hours after a huge story had broken. Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals were good enough to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament that year, but trouble had found a Pitino program, as it often did.
This was trouble big enough to prompt the school to ban itself from the tournament, and it was trouble big enough to eventually cost Pitino his job. But on this day, after Louisville easily fended off a terrible Boston College side, Pitino took the podium and put on a show.
He called on the NCAA to go after schools harder for breaking the rules. He called on them to impose fines as high as $15 million, asked them to dock coaches half their pay.
“Don’t punish the kids who had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Which brings us to the current events in Pinckneyville. No, the Panthers’ volleyball team isn’t involved in a scandal anywhere close to the one that sunk Pitino. But its ban from the IHSA State Series for playing one more match than the maximum allowed in the regular season is full of layers, and I suspect we aren’t close to done peeling them off.
Here’s what I believe to be true: Pinckneyville coach Cathy Koenen is not a cheat. I’ve officiated her matches, I’ve dealt with her as a reporter, and she is good people. I’m pretty sure she’s devastated. The Panthers were good enough to make a serious run in Class 2A.
I also believe that athletic director Bob Waggoner was crushed for his daughter, Hallie, who by hard work had become one of the area’s best volleyball players. Imagine having to tell your high school senior that her volleyball career is over because of an oversight. That must have been brutal.
And I also believe what Tony Wilson, the principal, said about it being a simple oversight. He did take responsibility for the mistake, which stems from a Labor Day week tournament in Marissa.
But I also believe that everyone involved, if they had the chance to do this all over again, would have gladly canceled one of their non-conference matches in the season’s final week. That’s all it would have taken.
That being said, I also think the IHSA could have wielded a lighter touch than it chose to. It had a chance to make this a learning tool for everyone and instead opted to take a blowtorch to an anthill.
There was precedent for merely putting the school on notice that this shouldn’t happen again. It was done with three Chicago-area basketball programs four years ago that committed minor violations.
At that time, Kurt Gibson, the IHSA associate executive director who’s in charge of boys basketball, opined that the crimes weren’t worthy of a major punishment such as a postseason ban.
In sharp contrast, IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said Tuesday that bylaws and precedence governed his decision to remove Pinckneyville from the postseason.
Look, I get there are times when rules must be obeyed. No decision Anderson made on this matter was going to wholly satisfy everybody. And eventually, playing that extra match was going to catch up with the Panthers. If not this week, it would have probably happened later, and the consequences might have been worse.
Simply put, the endgame is this: No one wins in that matter. But the biggest losers are indeed the ones who did the least wrong and had the most taken away.
Adults make mistakes, and kids pay for them. And boy, did the Pinckneyville volleyball players pay for this mistake.