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Curie's Cliff Alexander dunks in a win against Simeon earlier this season. | Worsom Robinson/For Sun-Times Media

It was several days ago when I wrote these words:

In a word, this season has been special. The Class of 2014 is one of the greatest groups of players the state has produced in quite some time, and we’ve been fortunate that so much of that terrific talent plays on many of the state’s top teams. When was the last time, if ever, the four best, most prominent players in the state have played for the four best teams? There have been memorable individual performances and several classic games. It’s a season to cherish and one that will go down as one of the all-time greats.

And then all hell broke loose. 

Academic scandal, wins forfeited, teams playing too many games and being kicked out of state tournament play and then reinstated ... Yes, this season is going to be memorable.

Right now it’s still up in the air as to whether or not Curie, the state’s No. 1 ranked team and now sporting a 0-25 record, will be able to play in the state tournament that begins Monday. But I can’t fathom the idea of a team that was just forced to forfeit all 24 wins, blatantly played seven ineligible players all year and, along the way, ignored the system put in place and, more importantly, cheated the student-athlete, just being able to wipe the slate clean and suddenly be good to go for state tournament competition.

Oh, yeah, that’s going to go over well with the rest of the teams and their fans across the state. Just imagine the reception Curie would receive as they trot out on the Carver Arena floor in Peoria if they make it to the state semifinals in three weeks. Now THAT’S going to be March Madness!

But you know what? They tell me the IHSA has different eligibility standards than the Chicago Public League. As long as they are all eligible at the start of the state playoffs, and as long as those players are passing the right amount of classes, it’s all good. 

However, if Curie failed to do paperwork for the Chicago Public League’s ISP process (Independent Study Program), as the investigation states, isn't it a little difficult to believe they were on top of any grade reports or academic progress checks, which the IHSA requires high schools to submit internally throughout the season. Not a single academic casualty all season long? Really

This is more in the lines of one of those NCAA's "lack of institutional control" charges. 

But the CPS investigation gave the IHSA a knock-it-out-of-the-park freebie going forward. The IHSA can easily say we are going with the CPS investigation, that Curie has now filed the proper paperwork prior to the start of state tournament play, and off we go with our “Original March Madness.” Game on! 

This is the IHSA, however, and that’s where you just don’t know what rules they will enforce or what rules they will tweak at a moments notice. I mean this is the organization that in 2009 punished North Lawndale in the state semifinals with a technical at the start of the game, due to a uniform violation. 

Yep, a stripe stretched across the front of the jersey. That's a big, bad no-no when the stakes are the highest –– the State Finals in Peoria –– so a free-throw and possession was awarded to Champaign Centennial to start the state semifinal game, which Centennial won by one point. 

North Lawndale played two regional games, two sectional games and a super-sectional prior to playing in Peoria without incident. But THIS was the rule and the time the IHSA was going to drop the hammer, a rule no one would have noticed or cared about one bit. 

Which takes us to the other drama that unfolded this past week. Bogan, Hyde Park and Uplift, all three of which are regional favorites, potential sectional champs and all with a realistic hope of reaching Peoria in Class 3A, are now all cleared to play after initially breaking scheduling rules that would normally prohibit them from being eligible in state tournament play.

Bogan and Hyde Park scheduled too many games; Uplift played in too many tournaments. These aren’t exactly tough or tricky rules to follow. I mean 99 percent of the schools around the state find a way to comply with the rule that is clearly stated in the IHSA bylaws.  

As one coach told me this week, “Second grade was my best year of school, and I learned how to count.”

The problem is there are always a few schools that have failed to count correctly, scheduled poorly, and have been forced out of state playoff competition because of it. 

This year the IHSA says this in a released statement:

“After thoughtful and deliberate consideration the board ultimately felt that a scheduling error by the coaches and administration was not a severe enough infraction that it should result in the team losing the opportunity to play in the postseason,” IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement

Huh? So the crime was severe enough to punish schools in the past but not this year? Where was this statement last year?

Now, I will say in the past it’s never really impacted a ranked team or one with promising March fortunes. So maybe it was easier to sweep the poor schedulers under the rug. But if I’m one of those teams from past years, I’m looking at the IHSA right now, shaking my fist and head and thinking, “You sons-of- ....” 

How do you think Phillips High School, which suffered the wrath of the IHSA last year for playing too many games, feels right now? The rule didn’t change, nor did the consequences. But the enforcement of both did. 

Say what you want about the punishment not fitting the crime. I agree. I think it’s a tough penalty, even if the rule is soooooooooooooo stinking easy to follow. But then change the rule or change the consequences –– after the season, before the next one starts. You can’t just, on a whim, suddenly say it’s OK for one team and not the other. 

Every single coach and athletic administrator I’ve talked with this week –– and it’s been in the dozens –– thinks the decision is an absolute joke. Well, I guess I didn’t talk to Bogan, Hyde Park or Uplift. But you get the point. How can everyone involved in the sport and in the process think one way and the IHSA another way? 

Now lets see if it happens again on Monday with the Curie decision.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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