MATTOON -- The top Illinois High School Association girls basketball official said Wednesday that the association learned of Mattoon's excess regular-season games on Monday morning, clearing up previous lack of clarity over when they discovered it.
Mattoon’s girls basketball team announced Monday that it was disqualified from the postseason because it played a 32-game schedule, one game over the IHSA’s limit. The IHSA discovered the issue Monday while its office reviewed schedules for the playoffs, IHSA assistant executive director for girls basketball Beth Sauser said.
Sauser, upon learning of the problem, called Mattoon and asked the school to check that the issue was not a reporting error where a lower-level game was mistakenly reported as a varsity game. Mattoon did so, found no reporting errors, and verified to the IHSA that it had played one game over the limit due to a scheduling oversight.
The IHSA does not keep track of or review each team’s schedule and changes to it during the course of the season, preventing it from notifying Mattoon earlier that its schedule contained 32 games.
“That’s up to the school to make sure they schedule and play, in any sport, that they’re under the team limitations,” Sauser said.
The school announced the news late Monday afternoon, shortly after hearing the IHSA’s ruling, that its girls basketball team would not play in the postseason. Postseason ineligibility is the common punishment for teams that violate the limit. The Green Wave (17-15, 7-5 Apollo Conference) were originally scheduled to play Paris in the Class 3A Mt. Zion regional on Tuesday.
“We know there was no malicious intent to gain an advantage by playing an additional game,” Sauser said. “But the bylaws are very clear stating a maximum of 31 games. In past precedents, what has occurred to teams that violate it is that they’re no longer allowed to continue their season. It’s an unfortunate situation and we offer our support to Mattoon. It’s not easy, but it’s in the bylaws.”
IHSA does not keep an official count of teams that exceed the regular-season game limit and are therein banned from the postseason. Sauser said it is a common infraction, though, and happened to four girls volleyball teams last fall.
“It’s something that occurs sometimes in every sport almost every year,” Sauser said. “Unfortunately, due to counting errors or something that happened or that it was written down wrong -- we’re never sure -- this is not the first time and unfortunately won’t be the last.”
Mattoon said in a statement Monday that the scheduling oversight happened because it added a December game. The statement did not identify the exact game and the opponent and the school was not required to specify either to the IHSA. Mattoon athletic director David Vieth said another school contacted Mattoon asking to play a game early in the season. Mattoon agreed, thinking it had not yet hit the regular-season limit.
“We didn’t think we were at that point,” Vieth said Monday. “We made a mistake.”
It is not clear when Mattoon athletic department officials initially discovered they had overscheduled. Vieth, when asked Monday, declined to answer.
“I know the administration feels terrible, definitely, in this case,” Sauser said.
If Mattoon did discover it was over the limit while the regular season was still being played, it could have canceled a game to get back under, though that comes with consequences of its own.
According to IHSA bylaw 6.040, any member school that cancels a non-conference game against another member school would risk a breach of contract with the other school and with the officials. The bylaw states the IHSA board of directors can assess the offending school a fine up to $100 and “the financial loss which, in the judgment of the Board of Directors, is sustained by the offended school” as a result.
The Apollo Conference’s bylaws state that a canceled game between two member teams jeopardizes the eligibility of both teams for the conference championship.