Panel chair urges full reinstatement for McDaniel
Grady Irvin Jr. urges FHSAA executive director to intercede to let Braden River’s Knowledge McDaniel participate in playoffs
The Knowledge McDaniel saga may not yet be over.
The chairperson of the Section 3 Appeal Committee hearing for McDaniel wrote a letter to the Florida High School Athletic Association director in support of “full reinstatement” for the Braden River High student-athlete.
Grady Irvin Jr. of the Irvin Law Firm, who chaired the Sept. 6 hearing in Bradenton, said the committee would have “supported the action of full participation without limitations if, as a committee, we were confident that as executive director you would not have exercised your right to appeal (to the Board of Directors) such a determination by the committee,” he said in his two-page letter to FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn.
Irwin wrote, “Despite the investigation I am confident that none of the committee members wanted to see student-athlete McDaniel not participate and therefore we attempted to fashion a remedy that we hoped would be palatable to the office of the executive director and the Board of Directors in the event of an appeal.”
In a case that was scheduled to take 20 minutes but lasted more than two hours, the committee first offered a motion that McDaniel, a senior football player, be allowed to play in the remaining regular season games and not the playoffs, but a vote never was taken.
After a short recess, a new motion proposing that McDaniel participate in only non-district games and not the playoffs passed by a 3-1 vote. Lenny Paoletti, the Saint Stephen’s director of athletics who made both motions, since has resigned from the committee.
Braden River High appealed the decision and obtained attorney T.R. Smith of the Mackey Law Group in Bradenton to represent McDaniel at a mediation hearing Thursday in Gainesville.
There the sides agreed with a decision to permit McDaniel, an athlete with more than 20 college offers, to play in all of the remaining regular season games, but not the playoffs, if the Pirates qualify.
Irvin penned his letter after Thursday’s decision. He concluded, “Once again, it is my very strong recommendation that in your capacity as executive director you exercise your authority and set-aside the rules and bylaws, something we as a committee were not empowered to do, and allow this young man to play without restriction. To do anything less would, in my opinion, be an unjust outcome in light of your authority. And yes, sometimes as a chair all one can do, inadvertent or otherwise, is provide the groundwork for reconsideration of an outcome.”
A final appeal for McDaniel was set for 1 p.m. Sunday, but canceled after the results of Thursday’s mediation.
This letter will not prompt the McDaniel side to reschedule the appeal.
“We don’t want to undo the agreement we currently have,” Smith said. “We don’t want to back out of that and go back to the two games left. We want to make sure he plays in at least six games.
But because of Irvin’s letter, Smith wants to keep the hopes alive of Tomyn exercising his authority and reinstating McDaniel for the playoffs.
“Of course, we are requesting that the executive director uses his authority to reinstate him in the playoffs at this point,” Smith said.
When asked if he would have approached mediation hearing differently had Irvin written his letter before Thursday, Smith said, “Probably not. It’s still an unknown what would be done at the next level.”
Smith said it would have helped McDaniel’s cause had Irvin sent the letter to Tomyn prior to the mediation, “To let him know how he felt about it,” Smith said of Irvin.
Smith added that had he not received Irvin’s letter he would not pursue it further, since the mediation hearing was deemed the final decision in the matter.
Now, Smith hopes Irvin’s letter along with a letter from his law office requesting full reinstatement will sway Tomyn to make an executive decision and permit McDaniel to play the remainder of the season, including playoffs, without restrictions.
Grady Irvin’s letter to the FHSAA:
Re: Braden River High School / Knowledge McDaniel Support for Full-Reinstateinent without Restrictions
Dear Mr. Tomyn:
It is my understanding that the FHSAA (“Association”) has reinstated Knowledge McDaniel of Braden River High School for the rest of the “regular season;” however, it also my understanding that the young man is prohibited from participation in the playoffs. I would implore the Association to (a) rethink its position, (b) for you as executive director to assert your authority, and (c) for this young man to be fully reinstated for the full season. including district playoffs. I am certain that the entire committee would have supported the action of full-participation without limitation if, as a committee, we were confident that as executive director you would not have exercised your right to appeal to the Board of Directors) such a determination by the committee.the exercise of which would have kept alive” the possibility that Mr. McDaniel’s prep playing days would likely have ended prior to the school’s next scheduled game on September 28, 2018 versus Venice High School (as your exercise of appellate rights to the Board of Directors would have had the full weight of your office and the staff that conducted such a damning investigation behind it; as a committee I can assure you we didn’t like those odds).
In this my sixth and final year of two three-year terms as chairman of the Section Three Appeals Committee I have seen an array of cases that have come before us, many of those cases have brought tears to the eyes of committee members. However, during these six years there has never been a case that staff seemed so strongly for the imposition of discipline, including the exclusion of student-athlete McDaniel for 365 days. I believe that the committee placed its confidence in the investigation conducted by staff with regard to this student-athlete and the information that was shared with us pertaining to incidental benefits to this student-athlete, another student-athlete who has since graduated, the imposition of a $40,000 fine against Braden River, and the suggestion that there was a lack of full candor during the investigation and subsequent inquiry. Despite the investigation I am confident that none of the committee members wanted to see student-athlete McDaniel not participate and therefore we attempted to fashion a remedy that we hoped would be palatable to the office of the executive director and the Board of Directors in the event of an appeal.
Once again, it is my very strong recommendation that in your capacity as executive director you exercise your authority and set-aside the rules and bylaws, something we as a committee were not empowered to do, and allow this young man to play without restriction. To do anything less would, in my opinion, be an unjust outcome in light of your authority. And yes, sometimes as a chair all one can do, inadvertent or otherwise, is provide the groundwork for reconsideration of an outcome. I remain,
Irvin Law Firm
Mackey Law Group letter to the FHSAA:
September 20, 2018
Via e-mail to EmailExecutive Director@fhsau.org
Florida High School Athletic Association Attn: George Tomyn, Executive Director 1801 NW 80th Boulevard Gainesville, FL 32606
Re: Knowledge McDaniel; September 20, 2018 Mediation
As you know, we represent Knowledge McDaniel. We are in receipt of the enclosed September 20, 2018 letter from Section Three Appeals Committee Chairman Grady Irvin, It is clear that the FHSAA’s entire procedure and determination of Mr. McDaniel’s eligibility is greatly flawed. Within two hours of the conclusion of today’s mediation, your Section Three Appeals Committee Chairman admits that the Appeals Committee made its September 6, 2018 ruling only to avoid a potential override by you? This letter is a bombshell.
Knowledge McDaniel reluctantly agreed to the FHSAA’s offer today only because: (i) he had a reasonable fear that the Board of Directors would not rule in his favor; and (ii) any legal proceeding to overturn the FHSAA’s decision would last well beyond Knowledge’s senior football season. This is all an incredible injustice to an innocent young man that is unsupported by the record evidence, the FHSAA’s rules, and Florida law.
We do not want to back-out of our agreement reached today; but, we strongly recommend that you exercise your authority to amend our agreement to fully reinstate Mr. McDaniel’s eligibility, without restriction as to the football play-offs.
Sincerely, Mackey Law Group, P.A.
Braden River High principal Sharon Scarbrough letter to FHSAA:
Braden River High School would like to formally request that as executive director of the FHSAA, you exercise your authority and allow Knowledge McDaniel to be eligible to compete in all athletic contests with no restrictions. I make this request as a result of the attached letter and the information and recommendation it contains from Grady C. Irvin, Jr., who served as the Chair of the Section 3 Sectional Appeal Committee held on September 6, 2018.
We appreciate the time and results of the recent Formal Mediation and want to maintain his eligibility for the regular season. However, I would like to echo Mr. Irvin’s request for you to reconsider this situation and see the opportunity for a positive result for all parties.
Attorney T.R. Smith’s interpretation of the rules:
The Florida statute on the requirements for the FHSAA Bylaws (Section 1006.20(2)(i)) provides that ”[t]he FHSAA bylaws may not limit the competition of student athletes prospectively for rule violations of their school or its coaches or their adult representatives. The FHSAA bylaws may not unfairly punish student athletes for eligibility or recruiting violations perpetrated by a teammate, coach, or administrator.” This statute prohibits the FHSAA from punishing student-athletes based on a violation by the school or any of the adults involved.
In our opinion, the FHSAA is basing its position on FHSAA Policy 36.5.2, which provides that a “student who is found to have accepted an impermissible benefit will be ineligible for interscholastic athletic competition for one or more years.” However, Knowledge cannot be found to have accepted a benefit when he had absolutely no knowledge of the rule. The entire record from the FHSAA’s investigation and Section Three Appeals Committee hearing is devoid of any finding that Knowledge knew about this rule. In fact, in the transcript from the September 6, 2018 Section Three Appeals Committee hearing, the Chairman acknowledges the fact that Knowledge did not know the rule.
There are also concerns of whether the FHSAA conducted a proper investigation before making its initial ruling to suspend Knowledge for 365 days. FHSAA Policy 39.3.1 provides that ”[a]pproved FHSAA Investigative Consultants will make every reasonable effort to interview every individual implicated in a potential violation”. It is our understanding that a formal investigation never occurred. Instead, the FHSAA based its ruling on unsworn written statements.
This young man is innocent of any wrong-doing and is being punished for an alleged violation that he did not create. The FHSAA is supposed to protect student-athletes. In this case, they are wrongfully punishing Knowledge McDaniel.
Knowledge McDaniel saga takes another turn. Here’s how the Braden River senior got to this point
BRADENTON – Roughly two hours after Braden River High senior Knowledge McDaniel had his eligibility increased to the final six regular-season games, the chairman for the Section 3 Appeals Committee penned a letter to Florida High School Athletic Association executive director George Tomyn imploring him to use his authority to allow McDaniel to also play in the playoffs if the Pirates qualify.
“I am certain the entire committee would have supported the action of full-participation without limitation if, as a committee, we were confident that as executive director you would not have exercised your right to appeal (to the Board of Directors) such a determination by the committee — the exercise of which would have ‘kept alive,’ the possibility that Mr. McDaniel’s prep playing days would likely have ended prior to the school’s next scheduled game on September 28, 2018 versus Venice High School,” the letter from Tampa-based attorney Grady C. Irvin Jr. stated.
“As your exercise of appellate rights to the Board of Directors would have had the full weight of your office and the staff that conducted such a damning investigation behind it; as a committee I can assure you we didn’t like those odds.”
Irvin sat on the four-person committee on Sept. 6 to hear McDaniel’s appeal of the FHSAA’s original 365-day suspension for receiving impermissible benefits from a booster club member. The committee voted 3-1 in favor of allowing McDaniel to play in three non-district games and no playoffs. He scored two touchdowns and had more than 130 total yards of offense in Braden River’s victory over Manatee on Sept. 7.
Thursday’s ruling meant the scheduled meeting with the FHSAA Board of Directors on Sunday was canceled. According to FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett, what was mutually agreed upon on Thursday is the final outcome.
“Back in June, we were led to believe it was a non-issue,” said Todd Thoma, the father of the family that McDaniel stayed with.
Thoma’s wife Regina added: “I believe the district told the FHSAA that they didn’t see any issue with impermissible benefits, and we were only asked to give statements just to back that up, but then somehow it escalated into the original suspension