A KingCo committee came down hard on Bellevue football Tuesday, banning the program from postseason play and prohibiting outside donations for four years.
The KingCo Conference came down hard on Bellevue High School football Tuesday, banning the embattled program from postseason play for four years, prohibiting outside donations for four years and tightening oversight of incoming transfers for two years.
A committee of athletic directors from KingCo cited in its report a preponderance of evidence that violations had occurred. KingCo reviewed sanctions that Bellevue had proposed for itself in the wake of a 68-page independent report that found wide-ranging rules violations within the program.
In response to allegations against the Bellevue booster club, KingCo ruled that the Bellevue football program cannot receive any donations for four years, including money, equipment and products from outside entities. Bellevue can appeal for that sanction to be reduced one year early.
Highlights of KingCo sanctions
Probation: Bellevue athletic department is on probation for four years.
Playoffs: No postseason games for four years
Boosters: No donations to program for four years
Games: Only KingCo 3A opponents for two years; no out-of-state opponents for four years
Transfers: Stricter guidelines, oversight for incoming transfer students for two years
Championships: Vacate Bellevue’s conference titles if WIAA determines that state titles should be forfeited
KingCo left the question of whether Bellevue should forfeit state titles up to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
Bellevue football investigation:
The sanctions are the latest chapter in the saga of investigations, appeals and denials concerning one of the most successful prep-football programs in state history.
In its findings released a few hours earlier, the KingCo committee:
• Found a “preponderance of evidence” that Bellevue illegally recruited athletes to the school and coordinated payments for athletes, and that Bellevue failed to self-report money provided to players’ families.
• Found a “preponderance of evidence” that Bellevue boosters paid the tuition of athletes at The Academic Institute.
• Agreed with Bellevue’s conclusions that athletes used false addresses to gain eligibility, and that payments were made to coaches without approval from the school district.
• Accepted a Bellevue resolution that it will not renew contracts for two years of coaches who violated the WIAA rule that stipends and gifts of more than $500 must be approved by the school board.
In addition to prohibiting the Bellevue football program from receiving donations, the KingCo committee said:
• Bellevue is not allowed to play any nonleague football games and will be limited to Class 3A league games for two seasons.
• Bellevue is not allowed to play out-of-state opponents for four seasons.
• The Bellevue athletic department is on probation for four years.
• KingCo will vacate Bellevue’s conference titles if the WIAA determines that state championships should be forfeited.
• KingCo will have stricter guidelines and oversight for incoming transfer student-athletes for two years.
The Bellevue football program was placed on a three-year probation last year for two self-reported violations, which allowed KingCo to hand down more severe sanctions.
“This begins the discussion of the penalty phase of the violations, and there are several steps working through that process,” said Mike Colbrese, WIAA executive director.
The Bellevue booster club in a statement early Tuesday expressed disappointment with the sanctions.
“The evidence shows that the practices KingCo now is penalizing — including summer sports camps for kids and paying coaches for extra work outside of the season — were approved by Bellevue School District and are shared by many, many area schools,” the statement said. “These efforts were and are fully within the rules.”
The boosters vowed to continue to fight. “The conference’s action sets a precedent that should raise a red flag to everyone,” the statement said. “We will continue to defend our right, and the right of booster clubs around the state, to make these activities available to kids.”
Bellevue school officials have previously told Bellevue head coach Butch Goncharoff that the district will seek to terminate him for violations of district policies. And the district has cut ties with longtime assistant coach Pat Jones.
Goncharoff released a statement after KingCo’s sanctions were handed down.
“This is another example of the incredibly flawed process that has been guiding this investigation for months. There are absolutely no facts to support KingCo’s conclusion — they have foolishly relied on the false inferences of the WIAA’s original report,” Goncharoff’s statement said.
“This decision is unfair to the players who are the heart and soul of this program. To deny them the ability to compete with their peers is wrong and goes against every principle of youth sports.”
Fighting the sanctions
In its report to KingCo, the Bellevue School District acknowledged several violations of rules while disputing other aspects of the independent investigation. In order to remedy the violations, the district had proposed a suspension of the team’s booster club along with meetings, training programs and policy reviews to ensure rules are followed in the future.
But KingCo officials saw Bellevue’s problems as requiring more severe sanctions.
Bellevue can appeal the sanctions to KingCo principals within five school days, then can appeal to the executive board of the SeaKing District and ultimately to the executive board of the WIAA. Bellevue Superintendent Tim Mills says the district will appeal.
Team supporters have battled the Bellevue School District’s decisions. Goncharoff has argued that the decision to fire him was based on improperly applied policies. Jones has filed an unfair-labor-practices complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission. And booster club President John Connors told supporters over the weekend that litigation may be necessary to protect the program.
Goncharoff built Bellevue into a football dynasty. The team won 11 state championships in 15 years, including a 67-game winning streak. Along the way, competitors have complained that Bellevue was bending the rules.
Last year, after a Seattle Times story detailed how numerous Bellevue players had taken classes at The Academic Institute, a private alternative school that former teachers described as a “diploma mill,” the school district called for an independent investigation.
That probe confirmed some of the problems that The Times found and also detailed other issues, including families that had used false addresses to gain eligibility, a school district that had obstructed the investigation and evidence that Goncharoff had been paid beyond the bounds of WIAA rules.