Bellevue High School leaders are challenging portions of an independent investigation accusing the school’s football team of wide-ranging violations, but they plan to temporarily suspend the team’s booster club.
In a report to the KingCo Conference obtained by The Seattle Times, the school said it disagreed with some of the investigation’s conclusions but acknowledged several other rules violations had occurred. To remedy those issues, officials have proposed a set of sanctions that include new meetings, training programs, a review of policies and a temporary suspension of its relationship with the team booster club.
The school said it was also dealing with personnel matters internally. Last week, school officials moved to fire head coach Butch Goncharoff for violations of district policies and end its relationship with longtime assistant coach Pat Jones.
• The KingCo Conference is reviewing the Bellevue report and intends to rule on the plan before the end of the school year.
• The conference has the option of adding sanctions beyond what Bellevue has proposed.
• The school could eventually appeal that decision to the SeaKing district level and ultimately to the executive board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).
• In the meantime, Bellevue is moving ahead with a plan to terminate head coach Butch Goncharoff. The coach has been provided with a chance to respond to that proposal in the coming days before district officials make a final determination. The coach has the option of challenging his firing and has said he plans to do so.
But the school is not proposing any other team punishments, such as forfeiture of past titles, suspension of future games or monetary fines. KingCo Conference officials are reviewing Bellevue’s proposal and have the option of adding stricter sanctions.
George Crowder, the president of KingCo, said Saturday the athletic directors are reviewing the report closely with the goal of “protecting the integrity and character of the league.”
Bellevue’s football booster club said in a statement that it welcomes the temporary suspension because it’s important for everyone to take time to ensure that rules are clear and fairly applied for all booster clubs.
“We look forward to working with the district to accomplish this objective as part of our overarching goal: to provide much-needed financial and volunteer support to extracurricular and charitable activities in the BHS community and beyond,” the club said.
In the KingCo memos, school leaders defended the team from some of the findings in the 68-page report produced by independent investigators.
The school contended that coaches did not coordinate tuition payments for athletes who took classes at an alternative private school, despite emails that suggested a role by Goncharoff and accounts from other families that team aides also played a role. The private institution, called The Academic Institute, has been derided by two former teachers as a “diploma mill” and one athlete as a “day care” for players, but Bellevue officials contend in their KingCo report that players did not use the alternative school to maintain minimum grade standards to stay eligible for football.
Bellevue’s own investigation detailed the close relationship between The Academic Institute and football team boosters, according to the documents. As the booster club donated thousands of dollars to the school, the head of The Academic Institute gave players discounted tuition.
For example, in the 2012-13 school year, 12 students at AI received tuition assistance. Five of the 12 were Bellevue football players. The following year, four of the eight students who received tuition assistance were Bellevue football players.
Jennifer Vice, the director of The Academic Institute, said in one case she did use booster club donations to help calculate a lower payment for a player, according to Bellevue’s report. But she said generally the donations given to her for-profit school were used broadly for anyone she selected to get financial help.
Bellevue officials accepted that argument, telling KingCo leaders there was a violation for the booster club money supporting one student but not for the others who received assistance. The school proposed no athletic sanctions for the violation, saying none was appropriate.
The independent report that was released last month focused much of its attention on how some player families appeared to have provided false addresses to gain eligibility within the district. In some of the cases, the school said in its KingCo memos that further investigation found legitimate explanations for the odd documentation. But the school said there were problems in three of the cases.
Two of the players had already graduated, so the school said there were no appropriate sanctions to remedy their participation on the team. The school said it suspended the third player, who is set to graduate this year, for the remainder of the spring sports season.
For violations of high-school athletic rules, there are a range of sanctions ranging from a mea culpa letter to expulsion from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). A decade ago, the Chief Sealth girls basketball program was stripped of two state titles.
Bellevue and coach Goncharoff built a football dynasty, winning 11 state titles since 2001, including a winning streak of 67 games.
Along the way, as numerous star players transferred to play on the Bellevue team, the program faced allegations of recruiting. But Bellevue could find no evidence other than a Facebook conversation that The Seattle Times reported about last year. The school proposed no sanctions for that.
School district officials also defended their handling of the football program, saying they did not withhold information about The Academic Institute or about a player who received a financial gift from a coach. Instead, the school officials said the information they had gathered simply wasn’t enough to confirm.
For example, one family said it had received a $3,000 gift from a coach. But while the coach also initially said it was a gift, he later said it was a loan.
“Bellevue High School felt that this additional information was relevant and credible,” school officials wrote. The school last year reported a violation related to the money, but characterized the $3,000 as a loan.
The proposed firing of Goncharoff, which he has vowed to fight, revolved largely around the payments he received from the booster club. The club has said it paid Goncharoff about $60,000 a year, but for an offseason camp, not for coaching football in-season.
School officials determined that Goncharoff violated district policies by accepting the payments and criticized him for being “deliberately deceptive” when administrators had asked him about outside money. The school also said the coach was violating WIAA rules in the process but said no sanctions were necessary beyond internal actions.
The school district is looking to hold community meetings in the summer to discuss high-school sports rules. The district also plans to lengthen a mandatory training session for coaches.
We “believe that internal remedies are sufficient to provide the hearing panel with assurances that no further violations will occur,” the officials wrote.
Bellevue’s team is already on probation for violations reported last year for money given to a family. Goncharoff was suspended for two games last season for his role in that matter.