Cordia High School has been hit hard by sanctions from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association for violating a litany of bylaws dealing with transfers, eligibility of players, financial aid and illegal practices within the boys’ basketball program.
The penalties include the forfeiture of all basketball games from the 2013-14 season, the suspension of the program from playing scrimmages or games for the entire 2014-15 season and postseason and a postseason ban in 2016. Cordia’s interscholastic athletic program will remain on probation through the 2018-19 season. Also, two members of the basketball coaching staff are suspended from the 2014-15 postseason boys’ basketball tournaments sanctioned by KHSAA and the school was fined a total of $25,980 for various infractions. As an added stipulation, boys’ basketball players with eligibility remaining may transfer to specific KHSAA member schools without penalty.
“Unfortunately, after this long and careful review, this series of events may well represent the most wanton and blatant disregard for Association rules in its 97 year history,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett in his communication to the school. “There is apparently no person within the school or school system willing to actively and aggressively control and manage the athletic program.”
During the course of a nearly year-long investigation, the KHSAA found sufficient evidence that representatives of the athletic program, including representatives of the Lotts Creek Community School who are inextricably related to both the school and its athletic program, committed violations of KHSAA bylaws, many of which were acknowledged by the school, including:
— Falsifying records, or maintaining inaccurate records with regards to living arrangements of transferring student-athletes
— Allowing a staff member to lease housing to the family of a student-athlete without ever receiving payment
— Impermissible contact with multiple student-athletes with the intent to sway them to enroll at Cordia for the purpose of competing in athletics
— Providing free transportation to relocate a student from an out-of-state school
— Providing plane tickets on two separate occasions to a student-athlete so he could travel out-of-state
— Facilitating housing for a student-athlete at no cost to him or his family
— Providing money and clothes to student-athletes
— Conducting tryouts for non-enrolled students
— Paying the entire cost of education for two students on an F-1 exchange VISA to attend Cordia
— Providing housing to numerous students that participated on the boys’ basketball team, as well as housing for their families
— Allowing ineligible players to practice and compete in contests before they were cleared to participate
— Requiring players to attend practice prior to the official start date for preseason practice (October 15), and disciplining students who missed these practice sessions
— Holding “open gym” practices that were limited to the boys’ basketball team and thus mandatory, following the elimination from the postseason
— Failing to properly monitor the coaching requirements for individuals coaching in the boys’ basketball program, including the obligation to complete the legislatively mandated Sports Safety Course. These violations included a 30-day period during the 2013-14 season when no member of the coaching staff met the requirements of Bylaw 25.
The Lions have been coached by former Kentucky player Rodrick Rhodes since the 2011-12 season. After going 11-18 in his first year, Cordia improved to 19-10 and then went 23-9 last year. They won a 14th Region All ‘A’ championship and reached the finals of the State All ‘A’ Tournament.
Tackett said some of the violations date back to the 2010-11 school year, but the major violations occurred in the last 12 to 24 months.
“The majority of the aforementioned violations are clearly indicative of a school without any appreciable level of institutional control over its athletic program… and it is my conclusion that they illustrate an undeniable pattern of practice and culture of noncompliance that has been allowed to evolve at Cordia,” Tackett said.
As part of the probation Cordia will be placed on conditional KHSAA membership, with its membership status to be reviewed at the end of the 2014-15 school year by the Board of Control beginning with the 2015-16 season. Also as part of its probation, all Cordia coaches and athletic administrators shall be required to attend an in-service workshop in Lexington, conducted by the KHSAA staff concerning Association Bylaws and Kentucky law that affects interscholastic athletics during the 2014-15 school year. Additionally, an assistant commissioner will be assigned to work directly with the superintendent of schools and the principal of Cordia to ensure development of policies, procedures and best practices to be implemented in the athletic program.
“Participation in interscholastic athletics has long been recognized as a privilege and not a right. This is an important distinction. With this privilege comes responsibility. A theme throughout this matter has been the participation, whether at practice or competition, of ineligible student-athletes,” added Tackett. “The collective Association of member schools, including Cordia, have agreed to abide by the Bylaws of the KHSAA which are indisputable when the knowledge is there to prevent an ineligible player from participating.”
Cordia has 30 days to appeal the ruling, which was handed down Monday, to the KHSAA Board of Control.
Alice Whitaker, the director of the Lotts Creek Community School, issued a statement on Tuesday saying Cordia plans to appeal.
“We have no comment at this time on the KHSAA sanctions. We are handling this matter through our lawyers, due process, and the courts to rebuke this unfair, unjust, and unprecedented ruling,” she said. “We are going through the proper appeal process and will be going through the courts, because clearly the KHSAA has no interest in being a fair and unbiased authoritative governing body.”