OAK PARK – While the judge’s decision didn’t go in its favor, Fenwick High School has created a buzz surrounding what could have been an overturned football call and changed the face of high school sports going forward.
Fenwick sued the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) after referees improperly gave a final play to the opposing team, Plainfield North, after the game clock had expired following a grounding penalty on Fenwick. Plainfield North kicked a game-tying field goal and went on to win the game 18-17. The error of the call cost Fenwick the opportunity to play in the Class 7A state championship game and disappointed players and many associated with the Oak Park Catholic high school.
“It’s unfortunate because you have to think that most of these kids will never get a chance to play in a championship game,” said Scott Andresen, attorney and founder at Chicago law firm Andresen & Associates, whose practice focuses, in part, on sports and entertainment law. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
Fenwick sued the IHSA to have the call overturned, but the case was dismissed when Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy found that the school hadn’t had its due process rights violated and the IHSA had applied its rules consistently.
The IHSA maintained it could not overturn the call of its officials and the matter would not be reviewed by the association's board of directors, as stated in the association’s rules and bylaws.
“The IHSA is a voluntary association, and when you join a voluntary association you agree to be bound by their rules,” said Andresen. “The result in this game was bad, but I don’t think you upend settled and applicable law to change the outcome of one game. I think there would have been a far worse result.”
The ramifications of having a sports case such as this head to court, had the ruling gone the other way, could have been significant, as it could have created a precedent allowing sports teams to challenge in court game calls that don’t go their way.
Regarding whether sports calls should enter the courtroom, Andresen said, “I think the line should get drawn. When it comes to reviewing an umpire or official's calls, I honestly don’t think they have a place there. Cook County is backed up enough the way it is. God forbid you have every losing team filing lawsuits. It would be ridiculous. They’d have to open a third division just for sports cases.”
In this case, the calls of the referees stood and Fenwick has said it accepts the decision of the judge and will not appeal the ruling any further.
“The fact of the matter is you can look at any game and if you look hard enough you can find a whole bunch of blown calls,” said Andresen. “It just so happened to be that this one came at a crucial time and (was) game determinative.”