The East High football team, undefeated and ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, will have to play its next game without head coach Brandon Matich.
Matich was suspended one game by the Region 6 board of managers after East self-reported it had played an ineligible player in the final minutes of games against Cyprus and Bountiful. Other sanctions recommended by Region 6 include a $200 fine and a loss of one preseason game next year.
The player, a backup who transferred from Horizonte High School, was on the field for a total of eight plays in those games. East Principal Paul Sagers officially reported the violation after it was discovered that the player lived in Highland boundaries and had attended Highland prior to going to Horizonte, Woods Cross Principal John Haning said.
The player, whose identity could not be confirmed, had not previously played football at Highland.
Matich said he would accept the penalty and was not planning an appeal.
"The kid is not at fault here, and I think after the season, we'll try to take the appropriate process so he's eligible next year," Matich said. "Obviously our kids are disappointed that their coach isn't going to be there, but we have a good coaching staff and good players, and they'll come through."
Although the Timpview football and Snow Canyon baseball teams have recently forfeited wins for using ineligible players, Haning said the region tried to follow its own precedent.
"There's a lot of reasons why someone might play an ineligible player, so it's a kind of gray area," Haning said. "We wanted to be consistent in our region, and we knew there were some other decisions that hadn't ended in a forfeit."
The region determined that part of the reason East incorrectly had listed the player as eligible was that his brother had played for the Leopards in the past.
The other factor that seemed to sway the region from taking away East's wins was how it might affect other teams in the postseason.
In 3A baseball this spring, Snow Canyon was knocked to a No. 4 seed and upset No. 1 Juan Diego at home in the first round. The Region 6 principals were aware that knocking down the Leopards to a lower seed could similarly punish a higher-seeded school in a different region.
"There's someone else in the class who has a stake in what would happen," Haning said. "We felt like we would want to put the penalty on the team that had the infraction."
The penalties are subject to appeal by any school in Region 6, including East. If the ruling is appealed, the Utah High School Activities Association Executive Committee would hear the case and could either lighten the sanctions or give them more bite.
UHSAA executive director Rob Cuff said he had not yet heard from any party wishing to appeal as of Thursday afternoon.
Matich said assistant coach Larry Eldracher would take over in Friday's game.
East sanctioned for using an ineligible player
Penalties recommended by the Region 6 board of managers:
• One-game suspension for coach Brandon Matich
• Loss of one preseason game for 2013 season
• A $200 fine