Getting up to speed on Bellevue

Commentary: Tim Martinez

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor



Another chapter has been written in the saga called “As The Wolverine Turns,” also known as the story of the Bellevue High School football program.

But don’t think we’re that much closer to a conclusion. Heck, we’re barely halfway there.

When it comes to alleged infractions in prep sports in the state of Washington, there are about a half dozen levels of jurisprudence.

Bellevue has gone through three.

To get you up to speed, let’s start at the beginning.

Last summer, The Seattle Times published an investigative piece on alleged violations by the Bellevue football program. At the center of that piece was the attendance of several Bellevue players of a for-profit alternative school that had been described as a “diploma mill.”

That story led the WIAA to launch an independent investigation into the football program. That investigation found widespread lack of institutional control at Bellevue with potential violations ranging from football boosters subsidizing tuition to the alternative school, administrators willfully ignoring rules and players’ families providing false addresses to gain eligibility.

The Bellevue School District held its own internal review of the investigation. While admitting that there was evidence of misconduct and insufficient oversight, the lone sanction it proposed was to recommend the removal of football coach Butch Goncharoff for receiving improper payments received from the booster club and that Goncharoff was not forthcoming to the school district about the amount and nature of the payments.

A little background: In 2008, it was revealed that the Bellevue booster club was paying Goncharoff about $50,000 a season to coach the Wolverines. This was not a violation of WIAA rules at the time, but the WIAA did pass a new rule saying that boosters could not pay coaches more than $500 a year without prior approval from the school district.

The investigation revealed Goncharoff had received more than $500,000 from the booster club over the last 10 years. The booster club said this was not for coaching the Wolverines, but for running out-of-season youth football camps.

The next tier was the KingCo Conference athletic directors, who came down hard on Bellevue. The KingCo ADs did not accept Bellevue School District’s recommendations and went further with punitive measures.

Those included a four-year postseason ban, a two-year ban against playing non-league games, a four-year ban on playing out-of-state opponents and a four-year ban of the program receiving outside donations.

Bellevue superintendent Dr. Tim Mills called those sanctions unprecedented and “too severe.”

Next up was a panel of KingCo principals, who last week modified some of the ADs’ sanctions, but upheld most. The principals did strike down the postseason ban, saying that only the WIAA has that authority. The KingCo principals did recommend the postseason ban to the WIAA and suggested that if Bellevue didn’t take significant steps to improve its self-reporting and cooperation, the league would consider steps to expel the Bellevue football program.

Meanwhile, Bellevue School District backtracked a bit on its move to fire Goncharoff, placing the coach on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave.

So what’s next? Well now the process moves to WIAA District 2, which has a chance to review the sanctions. Bellevue can appeal to the district.

If Bellevue doesn’t like the district’s decision, it moves to a panel representing all nine districts in the WIAA. After that, it moves to the WIAA executive board.

And it likely won’t end there.

The final step would be litigation in court. Bellevue boosters have already suggested that step. And in its appeal to the KingCo Conference, the school district was represented by former state attorney general Rob McKenna.

Folks in Belleuve aren’t going down without a fight. So stay tuned for the next chapter.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.