More penalty flags

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Authorities blew their whistles again Monday and Tuesday in Columbia County's pair of high school football controversies.

The Georgia High School Association fined Greenbrier High School $1,000 and placed it on severe warning status for a year. This is after the school's own investigation revealed that two players took the field despite being academically ineligible. Other players practiced and played without updated physicals, or without the proper eligibility reports sent to the GHSA. Columbia County's school superintendent is still weighing possible further punishment for Greenbrier coach Scott Chadwick, who has stepped down as athletic director.

Lakeside High School football coach Jody Grooms, for engineering a blatant final-play cheat, drew a $250 fine and a year's severe warning from the GHSA -- a relative slap on the wrist.

The Columbia County school superintendent handed down additional punishment late Tuesday morning, but it still fell short of the mark.

Grooms, who also stepped down as athletic director, will have to pay that $250 fine out of his own pocket. He also loses his 12-month contract, his athletic director's pay supplement and, come January, the extra planning period given to athletic directors.

On top of that, Grooms will sit out the first two games of next season. And if he runs into any more trouble, he's gone.

Now for the inevitable comparison between Chadwick and Grooms. Should more people be calling for Chadwick's head as they did for Grooms?

Of course not. It's two completely different sets of circumstances -- and it boils down to the willful decision to cheat.

In Chadwick's case, it certainly doesn't appear that sloppy disposition of paperwork was part of some grand scheme to give his team an illegal boost. Papers were filed late, if at all. As for Greenbrier's two academically ineligible players, one played in two varsity games, and one played in every junior varsity game. All those games have been or will be forfeited.

Not exactly a cunning victory plan worthy of a James Bond movie, is it? Call it forgetfulness, or administrative lassitude -- whatever. Just don't mistakenly call it purposeful.

Comparing Chadwick and Grooms illustrates how there can be a distinct difference between wrongdoing being discovered, and being caught committing wrongdoing.

Grooms got caught. He specifically instructed his players to break the rules of football by participating in a deception -- specifically, slipping a receiver onto the field illegally from the sidelines, 40 yards downfield.

"Without full termination," said Superintendent Charles Nagle, "this is about as strict as you can get."

Exactly. As we said, the punishment fell short of the mark.

Groom's cheat was a despicable act for which he should have paid by losing his job. Instead, he paid in large part by cashing in the hard-earned capital of his team's integrity.

Comparing the Greenbrier and Lakeside episodes -- in terms of how the punishments fit the crimes -- Greenbrier bore harsher GHSA rebuke for what morally and ethically were lighter offenses.

All the schools can do now is prepare for next football season -- when they not only should win games, but win back some honor.


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