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Bellevue football accepts reduced sanctions, but coach’s future unclear

Commentary: Tim Martinez

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: August 12, 2016, 2:02pm

The saga of the Bellevue football team is over.

Well, more or less.

On Tuesday, the Bellevue School District accepted reduced sanctions handed down by District 2 of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association and said it does not expect further appeals on the matter.

On Monday, the Executive Board of District 2 reduced Bellevue’s postseason ban from four years to two years. The Wolverines will play a reduced schedule the next two seasons.

According to the KingCo Conference website, the Wolverines will play a six-game schedule in 2016 comprised of five KingCo games and a non-league game against Tumwater. The original schedule included games against two out-of-state opponents, Lincoln of Portland and Monroe City of Missouri.

The program is also banned from accepting outside financial support from a booster club for four years, although the school can appeal that sanction after two years. The Bellevue High School athletic department will be on probation for four years.

“Throughout the appeal process, we have consistently asked for sanctions to be applied so that student athletes, not involved in any violation, are not excessively penalized, that sanctions are based on violations found based in fact and that sanctions are appropriately based on past precedent,” the school district said. “Also, where violations based on fact have been found, Bellevue High School and the District have taken full responsibility and made appropriate changes to insure that future violations do not occur.”

While the KingCo Conference’s original penalty was lessened, in the end, the league may very well be pleased with the final outcome.

Because the appeal process in this state is so deeply layered, often when sanctions are handed out, programs are initially overpenalized with the hope that an optimum penalty will be arrived at through the appeal process.

It’s like if you were trying to sell your TV for $200, so you advertise that you want to sell it for $300, hoping that in the end you get at least $200 for it. Sanctions often work in a similar way.

But the District 2’s decision earlier this week left a couple of loose ends untied.

Most significantly is the future of Bellevue head coach Butch Goncharoff. The final sanctions handed down by District 2 and accepted by Bellevue states that any coach found to have violated coaching-pay rules should be banned for four years. But it did not determine if any coach violated those rules.

It’s interesting because these sanctions are not based on possible recruiting violations, which Bellevue stated were based on a “lack of evidence or innuendo, rumor, supposition or adverse inference.”

Nor are they linked to the football program’s connection with a private alternative school described as a “diploma mill” in which the school district found no wrongdoing.

Instead, these sanctions are based on the belief that Goncharoff and the booster club attempted to circumvent rules pertaining to coaches’ pay.

WIAA rules state that payments from a booster club to coaches are limited to $500 a year without prior school district approval.

The club said it paid Goncharoff $60,000 year, not to coach the football team, but to run the program’s youth football camps.

The school district ruled that Goncharoff violated rules by accepting these payments and that he failed to be “forthright and truthful” when asked about the payments by administrators, the Seattle Times reported.

Bellevue School District originally moved to terminate Goncharoff, but later backtracked and placed the coach on non-disciplinary administrative leave.

At the time, Goncharoff’s attorney said that putting the coach on non-disciplinary leave was a move simply to prevent the coach from challenging the decision.

So where does that leave Goncharoff? Bellevue School District only provided this clue.

“In addition to the improvements that have been made and are in process, the district will reach out to an independent organization to review any outstanding issues as a result of these proceedings,” the district statement read. “We anticipate that any policy recommendations will be presented to the School Board over the next few months.”

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

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