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OSAA goes overboard

Crater High School wrestling coach Greg Haga deserved to be punished for breaking state athletic association rules. But the severity of the punishment outweighed the seriousness of the offense. In addition, state officials should revisit rules against alumni participating in practices.

The Oregon School Activities Association — the body that governs interscholastic sports in this state — suspended Haga through the 2009-2010 season, placed the Crater wrestling program on probation through the 2010-2011 season and fined the school $3,100. Haga had planned to retire after this season anyway, but that's beside the point. Haga's primary offense was to allow a student to wrestle under an assumed name at an invitational tournament in Hawaii in December. The student had been ineligible for academic reasons, but had worked to improve his classroom performance and was due to be reinstated to the team a few weeks after the Christmas break.

What seems unfair about the harsh punishment in this case is the intent behind Haga's action.

He clearly broke the rules, and he did so deliberately. That's not excusable.

But neither Haga nor the team stood to gain anything as a result of the subterfuge.

A basketball coach who deliberately plays an ineligible student in a key game to help his team win deserves harsh punishment. A wrestling coach who did what Haga did in a crucial match would deserve the same.

But this was not an OSAA event. The outcome of the tournament had no effect on Crater's ranking in Oregon and gave it no advantage over any Oregon team.

Haga wanted to reward the student for his hard work in the classroom. The student's family had traveled to Hawaii to see him wrestle.

What makes this case especially painful for many in the Central Point community is Haga's exceptional record both as a coach and as a mentor and a motivator for his wrestlers. Haga's wrestling teams have won state titles eight times in his 20 years as a coach.

The outpouring of support from the Central Point community has been dramatic. Letters to the Mail Tribune sports department from parents and from former team members testify to the positive impact Haga has had on his wrestlers.

OSAA officials say they considered past infractions by Crater as well as six occasions when alumni of the team were allowed to participate in practice sessions — a violation of OSAA rules.

As Mail Tribune sports writer Kris Henry noted in a Tuesday column, the rationale behind the no-alumni rule is murky at best. Recent graduates can participate in team practices if they are designated as assistant coaches with the proper paperwork, and many do. But a college wrestler home for Christmas break cannot.

None of this excuses violating rules that everyone agrees to follow. The alumni rule might be overly restrictive, but that doesn't mean it can be ignored. And Haga clearly and deliberately violated a rule when he allowed an ineligible wrestler to compete.

We're not suggesting he get off with a slap on the wrist. But it seems to us that a suspension for the remainder of this season would have been more than sufficient.