Lafayette High football players have more free time on their hands this week than they wanted or earned, for one reason: Adults screwed up.
Which adults screwed up is almost irrelevant, because the list is so long. Parents, coaches, school administrators, state athletic officials. People you've heard of, others you haven't.
Any one of them might have been able to rectify the situation. Instead, Lafayette's football team suffers the equivalent of jail time for jaywalking.
By now, you've probably heard that the Rams had to forfeit two games for using an ineligible player. Thus, their 7-3 record fell to 5-5 and bounced them from the Region I Division 4 playoffs before they began.
The transgression: One player failed to turn in a physical examination and insurance information form required by the state for athletic participation.
Paperwork. That's it.
Not fictitious grades or questionable transfers or bogus addresses or administrative largesse.
"If it had been a better reason," quarterback Connor McGinty said, "then it would have been easier to take. But the fact that it was something like that, it was tough that it was for that reason."
It wasn't even a significant player. No one has publicly identified the player, but suffice to say that if he were a regular contributor, Lafayette's record would revert to 0-10 and not 5-5.
According to athletic director Dan Barner, one of Lafayette's winter sports coaches discovered the problem early this week and informed school officials. Barner told the football coaches and then the Virginia High School League.
The VHSL rejected the school's appeal unanimously, on the grounds that a rule is a rule. Unintentional or not, the school didn't comply with state procedures. Discretionary thinking is not inscribed on company letterhead.
"It's hard not to disagree with that rule, just based on the circumstances," McGinty said. "It's completely understandable if this player was one of our key players or someone who had participated in all of our games. But the fact that he participated in very few of our games and in just a couple of plays, it's hard not to be angry at (VHSL officials) for not having a little more sympathy for us."
VHSL assistant director Tom Dolan has received quite a bit of feedback from Williamsburg in the past couple of days. He is not unsympathetic. He is a former baseball coach at Lafayette and athletic director at Jamestown, so he knows the landscape and is well aware of the impact.
"Sometimes we have to make hard decisions," Dolan said. "That doesn't always mean we like the decisions we make or we always agree with the decisions we make, but we have to make them and be as consistent as possible."
Suddenly, the Rams' season is over, because they self-reported an offense that likely never would have been discovered if just a few people had kept their yaps shut.
Which ought not be the lesson in this, though you know it happens more often than you'd want from educators and role models, given the volume of kids and paperwork and flotsam and jetsam that routinely cross an athletic director's desk.
Judging by the chatter, some folks want Barner's head on a stick, because it happened on his watch or because he didn't perform some file cabinet magic. But he's one of the people who's done the right thing in this sorry affair.
Unfortunately for the football team, it was at the back end.
"It's hard knowing that it could have been the other way, that he didn't have to say anything," McGinty said. "But I've known Coach Barner for a long time, and I know that he would never … if he knew something was wrong, he's not going to hide it or put up with it. He wants to teach us a lesson that you have character if you've done something wrong. I respect him for that."
In summary, if anyone had recognized the omission on the front end, Lafayette would be preparing for a playoff game.
Certainly, the player bears some responsibility for not making sure that his paperwork was in order, but this passed through so many wickets that it's nearly unfathomable. The player's parents, any or all of the Rams' football coaches, any or all of the school administrators, the decision makers at the VHSL offices.
"We try not to be angry, try not to point fingers at anyone," McGinty said. "This is only going to make our team stronger and better. We've already talked for next season, that it's going to make us want the playoffs more. But we're not mad at anyone for what they did. Coach Barner was just doing what he thought was right. It's just a bad thing that happened, and we were just really unlucky."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times