Sabino High School's top-ranked girls basketball team has been placed on probation and removed from the Class 3A state playoffs by the Arizona Interscholastic Association's executive board for breaking prior contact rules.
The Sabercats will not play in Friday's Class 3A state semifinals against Holbrook, which advances to Saturday's title game at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
Sabino self-reported AIA rules violations last month following reports that coaches had prior contact with a player who ended up on the roster, and forfeited nine games as a result. Despite that, the Sabercats were the top seed in the 3A bracket. An AIA spokesman told the Star on Tuesday that the decision to pull Sabino from the playoffs was a direct result of the previous infractions.
“The executive board felt the move was necessary at this time to ensure those teams that abide by fair play get a chance to go for a state title," AIA said in a statement. "We will be looking at this incident regarding player ineligibility and team forfeitures to create procedures if it happens again in the future."
The Star first contacted the AIA on Jan. 18, regarding a tip about the alleged violations. At that time, AIA spokesman Seth Polansky told the Star, “Tucson Unified School District completed a thorough investigation into the matter and came to the conclusion that there were not any violations. The AIA accepted this assessment and the matter is closed.”
Less than two weeks later, the AIA said it discovered more evidence, and Sabino forfeited the nine games. Monday, the AIA's punishment was even more severe.
TUSD "disagrees with the AIA decision," the district said in a news release. TUSD said that it self-reported Sabino's violations in January, "and we believe the school and district properly addressed this matter that led to the violation."
"Our heart goes out to the students and parents in the Sabino girls basketball program," the release said. "We will continue to work diligently to resolve any reoccurrence of these violations which greatly affect our student-athletes through additional training programs.
Coach Jaamal Rhodes' team earned a first-round bye in the playoffs by virtue of being the No. 1 seed, then beat Paradise Honors and Chinle by a combined 46 points in the next two rounds.
The AIA's sanctions are the second against Sabino since last spring. The AIA stripped the Sabercats' baseball team of its Class 3A state championship after finding widespread misconduct within the program.
A TUSD investigation found that Sabino, under coach Mark Chandler, violated AIA rules for prior contact and used booster funds to pay an additional coach. Chandler stepped down in August.
“It’s punishment enough that the kids technically don’t have their state championship,” AIA executive director David Hines said in September 2018 of Sabino's state title team. “And that’s always a very, very tough decision by the board, because as educators ... we’re here for kids.”