One of the nation's top-ranked teams finds itself embroiled in an eligibility controversy surrounding its star quarterback after anonymous tips were sent in to a newspaper and state association that suggest the player has been living at a hotel to play for his current school.
As first reported by the Miami Herald, Miami (Fla.) Central quarterback Austin Stock suddenly finds himself under fire for allegedly making his permanent residence outside of Central's designated boundary area, and living at a hotel during the week while attending the school. Before the start of the season, Stock transferred to the school from Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and has been allowed to compete throughout the Rockets' season after he filed proper documentation about his address with Miami-Dade County Public School officials.
Now, information from an unknown source has brought Stock's true residency into question. The Herald reported that it received a packet from an anonymous source which documented Stock commuting to and from a hotel in Hollywood, Fla. -- which is outside of Central's school district -- with both video and photographic evidence. The photos and videos showed the quarterback being driven to school by a language arts teacher at Central and being dropped back off at the hotel by his mother after practice.
That evidence would certainly seem to indicate that the quarterback is bending rules at the very least to play for the Rockets, who kick off the playoffs on Friday at 9-0 and ranked No. 31 in the RivalsHigh 100.
Yet, the Herald also reported that the quarterback could still be deemed eligible to play by manipulating a bizarre loophole in the Miami-Dade Count Public Schools statutes: He could file paperwork to be declared homeless, regardless of who is actually financially supporting his stay at Hollywood's Curtis Inn.
According to school board bylaw 5111.01: "The District shall remove barriers [boundaries] to the enrollment and retention of homeless students. Homeless students shall be enrolled immediately, even if they do not have the necessary enrollment documentation such as immunization and health records, proof of residency or guardianship, birth certificate, school records, and other documentation."
Dr. Marcos Moran, assistant Superintendent of School Operations at Miami-Dade Public Schools, said before Wednesday's meeting with Central officials that as long as Stock could prove he had the proper documentation he would be considered eligible by the Miami-Dade board.
"After that, it's up to the FHSAA," Moran said. "We don't deem kids ineligible. The FHSAA does. We have to follow their policies. Even if it is reported, the FHSAA has to make that call."
Clearly, the intent behind establishing relaxed residential eligibility guidelines for homeless students wasn't to ease the process through which a top quarterback could keep competing for a top national team. Still, it appears that unless the FHSAA is willing to undertake its own investigation, there may be little that can stop Stock and the Rockets from manipulating eligibility rules to their distinct advantage.
For now, the FHSAA has no plan to launch such an investigation, at least until another school complains about the quarterback.
"Our purpose is to serve our members," FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told the Herald. "It costs about $450 a day to send an investigator into town between hotels, food. So if a member asks us to do it, we'll spend the money. But if it's anonymous or somebody not affiliated with the school, it's up to the school and county to self report."
Until that happens, Central's run toward repeating its Florida Class 6A state title will probably continue apace, with the help of a player who, perhaps, should still be throwing passes for Stoneman Douglas High rather than a much more highly touted program in Miami.
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- the Miami Herald