SEATTLE - The KingCo Conference cast a heavy punishment on the Bellevue High School Football program on Tuesday, which includes a four-year ban on postseason play.
The Conference Athletic Directors conducted their own investigation into allegations of recruiting, and payments that have surrounded the widely successful program for the last year.
Bellevue Superintendent Dr. Tim Mills said the district would appeal KingCo's sanctions by Monday, calling the punishment "too severe."
The district was concerned that KingCo did not provide specific information to support its decision, and wanted to see more details about the allegations.
"We see no precedence for this," Mills said.
Dr. Mills' statement came during a board meeting Tuesday night. At the beginning of the meeting, Butch Goncharoff, the football coach told by the district last month it intended to fire him, implored administrators to be strong.
"You may not like the football club, and I can live with that," said Goncharoff, "But don't punish these kids."
On Tuesday, the conference finished the investigation and released the findings and sanctions against the program.
They concluded that multiple allegations were sustained, including that a "preponderance of evidence" showed that boosters paid tuition of athletes at the Academic Institute, coaches coordinated payments for athletes, failed to self-report money to a player's family, and illegally recruited athletes to the school.
The committee also said Bellevue High self-reported that false addresses were issued for players to gain eligibility, payments were made to coaches without approval from the District Board of Directors, and payments for camps were excessive.
The committee of five local athletic directors said there was no evidence to suggest coaches sent athletes to the Academic Institute, nor subsidized housing to get them eligibility.
The punishment is severe in terms of recent state football history.
"(KingCo) is holding accountable people who had nothing to do with this program," said school board President Christine Chew, "It's hurting kids and our future. It's just wrong."
KingCo says Bellevue High will not be eligible to compete for a KingCo Title for four years (2016-2019) and is denied postseason play for those same four years.
KingCo has also ruled that the school will not be allowed to play non-league football game in the 2016-2017 season or play out of state opponents, home or away, between 2016-2019.
The sanctions also say that the involved coaches "shall be suspended from all aspects of the Bellevue High School Football and their feeder programs" for two years, and be suspended from KingCo for that same period.
The report also says the program should not receive any donations from any outside public or private entity for a period of four years, between '16 and '19.
It also says that any transfer students must provide a purchase/sales agreement or rental contracts from a residence located within the Bellevue High School service area, and a utility bill, from now on.
KingCo says the entire Bellevue High School athletic department is placed on probation from 2016 through the 2019-20 school years. The Bellevue School District hired Rich Brown Jr. to replace longtime head football coach Butch Goncharoff, who they intend to fire. Meanwhile, assistant football coach Pat Jones, who is fighting the district's decision to not renew his contract, filed a lawsuit against the district Friday.
The football program has arguably been the most decorated in state history, winning 11 titles in 15 seasons.
KingCo says the committee finds the "preponderance of evidence shows that athletes were illegally recruited" and are ineligible. It goes on to say "corresponding KingCo Titles will be forfeited if the WIAA determines there is evidence to forfeit State Titles for the same year or years."
It's unclear exactly whether the District will appeal, although the KingCo report leaves that possibility in place. The district's board is expected to address the issues at a 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the WIAA released the following statement:
"The WIAA has no response to the KingCo Report. This is the beginning of the penalty discussion and that process will determine the outcome."
The Bellevue Wolverines Football Club also responded to the penalties:
We are obviously disappointed by KingCo’s conclusions. It appears the conference adopted – without a critical eye – the flawed rule interpretations and false inferences on which the WIAA report was based.
The evidence shows that the practices KingCo now is penalizing – including summer sports camps for kids and paying coaches for extra work outside of the season – were approved by Bellevue School District and are shared by many, many area schools. These efforts were and are fully within the rules. More importantly, the four-year penalties will fall mainly on kids who had nothing to do with this dispute. Robbing our kids’ right to compete is not the solution, nor is depriving them of the ability to receive the same booster support that other area teams receive.
More importantly, the four-year penalties will fall mainly on kids who had nothing to do with this dispute. Robbing our kids’ right to compete is not the solution, nor is depriving them of the ability to receive the same booster support that other area teams receive.Supporting athletics, the arts, and other extracurricular activities is precisely what the community should be doing, and the conference's action sets a precedent that should raise a red flag to everyone. We will continue to defend our right, and the right of booster clubs around the state, to make these activities available to kids