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Legally Speaking: What can be done about the Mountain Pointe scandal?

(Mountain Pointe High School Facebook Photo/Kimberly Williams)

Legally … what can be done with the sports scandal at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix?

The school suffered quite a blow this week when news that a soon-to-be-fired coach purposely leaked game plays and information about the school’s athletic teams to opposing schools over the past two years (allegedly). His cheating prompted the questions, how could this happen, why did it happen, who should be held responsible and can this alleged betrayer be punished?

In my mind, as a sports mom, the moral and rhetorical questions are easy ones to answer so I am going to try to focus on the legal ones. Try.

First, who should be held responsible and how can they be held responsible? The first “who” is obviously the alleged betrayer.

Justin Hager was an assistant football coach who later became the girls basketball coach when he was not promoted to head football coach.  In his position, he had access to sensitive information such as player eligibility, and play lists. He took this information and disclosed it to opposing high school coaches using an email account under the name WalterPayton12@yahoo.com.

As a side note, I know Walter Payton’s son Jarrett personally and know him to be a wonderful man full of integrity.  He would NOT be happy that Hager was using his father’s name like this.  But I digress …

When it comes to criminal consequences, I find it extremely unlikely there will be any. However, it is possible parents could bring a civil action against Hager, but it would be difficult. The scenario might be something like this — the MP player had a real chance of obtaining a scholarship and there were scouts at the games where the opposing side received the plays via Hager. Because of the opposing side receiving the plays, MP and the player could not play as well as expected. As a result, the player lost the scholarship. Again, this would be difficult because proving the other team used the confidential information and proving the player lost the scholarship because of this would be as hard as finding a needle in a field of haystacks.

So, if there are no criminal consequences, and successful civil suits against Hager are unlikely, what can be done?

The only thing left is administrative consequences. Hager’s career as a teacher and a coach can be impacted significantly. He has already tried to resign but the Tempe Union High School District Board rejected his resignation.  Under Arizona law, section 15-545, “A certificated teacher shall not resign after signing and returning his contract, unless the resignation is first approved by the governing board. A teacher who resigns contrary to this section shall be deemed to commit an unprofessional act and, upon request of the governing board, shall be subject to such disciplinary action, including suspension or revocation of certificate, as the state board of education deems appropriate.”

Arizona law gives the board the power to fire Hager and/or revoke his teaching certificate. Granted, you don’t have to have a license to teach or coach here in Arizona, but it should still prevent him from coaching again. Additionally, any school hiring him would take on huge liability if he had access to any sensitive, confidential information about students. He has already apparently shown his true colors.

Now let’s talk about Mountain Pointe and Tempe Union High School District. A civil action could be brought against them for negligence, negligent supervision and/or negligent hiring. The school has a duty to protect its students and its programs. This includes protecting confidential information and only allowing certain persons access to the information. In addition, they have a duty to hire qualified, respectful teachers. It could be argued the school and the district breached the duty by hiring Hager, giving him access to the information and not supervising his use and access to the information. MP and the district could defend themselves by proving there was no indication he was an unethical, irresponsible jerk (allegedly). The real problem is damages. The player would have to show they were damaged by the negligence. Again, a needle in a field of haystacks.

Who does that leave? How about the opposing coaches that received the emails and did not tell their athletic directors or administrations about the emails? How about the coaches that looked the other way, after reading and absorbing the information, and used that information? When did their job turn to solely winning a game instead of teaching young men how to be men and play the game?  This is where the Arizona Interscholastic Association comes in.

The AIA “is a voluntary association of public and private high schools which was established by and is responsible to its members.” Unfortunately, the AIA does not have its own investigative arm like the NCAA does to look into the other coaches and potential violations of the code of ethics for its coaches.

The AIA relies on schools to “self-report” any violations. After receiving information from the schools, the AIA could then sanction a school or a coach. Seriously though, what coach and what school is going to sabotage its program and/or their career by confessing?

So, #LegallySpeaking, that leaves us with this. Nothing. There will likely be no criminal charges and no successful civil lawsuits against Hager, MP or Tempe Union High School District. Although Hager could lose his certificate.

That being said, there could be social change. Perhaps schools and coaches will be more guarded with their information. In response to this story, a colleague of mine said it best: “Although there is no crime for being a bad coach, a bad person or a jerk, it is circumstances like this that make us wish there were.”