As a student-athlete who grew up playing sports at a local high school, I had the privilege (read: frustration) of occasionally sharing the field with teams from Mater Dei High School. Their teams, in most every sport (particularly boys basketball and football), were always a bit taller, a bit stronger and hell of a lot more talented. Most every post-game pondering session involved the same thought: “how do they get that much talent on the same team?” Naturally, recruiting always came to mind. (Yes, that was probably partially sour grapes on my part.)
In October of last year, Mater Dei, using lawyers from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange filed a civil suit in Santa Ana Superior Court against the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section, which governs high school athletics. The suit alleged that the CIF “has consistently, intentionally and systematically engaged in arbitrary and discriminatory actions against Mater Dei by issuing and enforcing unsupported and erroneous findings and rulings relating to eligibility of student athletes at Mater Dei.”
What happened was that the CIF ruled two of the school's recent transfers ineligible, according to a column by Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times.
Matt Leinart, Matt Barkley, Colt Brennan, D.J. Strawberry are among many, many high-profile, quality athletes to have filled the Monarchs rosters over the years. They came and went without any real questions asked.
How they got them and how they continue to get them is a question for the critics and the skeptics (count us among that group). Private schools have the ability to play by slightly different rules when it comes to attracting student-athletes, unlike public schools, who can only draw students from within specific boundaries. For years, coaches and athletes have complained that the situation was unfair, but recourse was rarely sought. And frankly, the CIF never much seemed to want to enforce transfer issues, according to Sondheimer's column.
Now, in this instance, when Jim Staunton, commissioner of the CIF-SS stepped in and declared two prized athletes, a football player and water polo player, ineligible, the school was outraged.
Representatives from both sides concluded mediation sessions last week, but no resolution was reached, according to Steve Fryer of the OC Register. As of today, litigation continues, but there is nothing scheduled further.
Fortunately for the Santa Ana-based high school, the Diocese of Orange has deep, deep pockets, so if it's necessary to draw this case out over time, cost won't be an issue.