Class 5A playoffs delayed at least one week

The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — The start of the Class 5A football playoffs will be delayed by at least a week while Las Cruces High School and the New Mexico Activities Association battle in court.

The NMAA, the governing body for high school sports in the state, announced Tuesday it was postponing the start of the 5A playoffs so it can deal with a lawsuit filed by the parents of 19 Las Cruces High School players.

The NMAA said it expects to have the case heard in state district court in Las Cruces within two or three days.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera sent the lawsuit back to the state court. The NMAA had hoped to have Herrera dismiss the lawsuit so the playoffs could begin as scheduled this week.

District 4-5A champion Clovis (7-3) is expected to earn a top seed in the 12-team tournament. The Wildcats have been ranked second in the Albuquerque Journal’s coaches’ poll most of the season behind unbeaten Mayfield.

Herrera ruled Tuesday that that even though the lawsuit alleged violations of Constitutional rights, the plaintiffs’ attorneys had not properly alleged those claims in their complaint and that no federal jurisdiction existed.

The parents sued the NMAA after the association ruled the Las Cruces football team had to forfeit wins over Onate and Gadsden because the Bulldawgs had used an ineligible player.

The parents contend they were not allowed to properly appeal the NMAA’s decision. They do not dispute the ineligibility issue, but say they were denied due process.

The forfeits, if allowed to stand, would keep Las Cruces out of the playoffs. If the forfeits stand, Las Cruces would have a 3-7 overall record and 0-4 district record. If the forfeits are overturned, the Bulldawgs would be 5-5 overall and 2-2 in the district and in line for an at-large berth to the playoffs.

NMAA Executive Director Gary Tripp, who is also named in the lawsuit, conferred by telephone with the association’s board of directors after Tuesday’s court hearing in Albuquerque, then announced the association would continue to fight the lawsuit.

“The NMAA strongly believes that the enforcement of eligibility rules, which are voted upon and approved by their member schools, is crucial and essential to ensuring a level playing field for all student athletes,” Tripp said.

Tripp said if the case takes more than a week to resolve, it’s likely the state 5A championship game won’t be played until the third weekend in December.