The Clairton and Monessen boys' basketball teams are allowed to participate in the playoffs this season, but the WPIAL levied player suspensions and an unprecedented five-year probation to both schools.
If that probation is violated, the offending team will receive at least a two-year ban from both WPIAL regular-season and postseason competition, said executive director Tim O'Malley, who stressed that the wording was “will” not “might.”
Any team in violation will be punished, not just boys' basketball.
Administrators and coaches from Clairton and Monessen answered questions from the WPIAL board of directors for more than an hour Monday afternoon during a hearing to address last week's basketball brawl.
“The board took very seriously the significance of the occurrence the other night,” O'Malley said. “It was uncalled for. Certainly there's no place for it in athletics and they felt very strongly about it.”
Among the other punishments:
►All players who left the bench must be suspended one game. The suspensions will be staggered two players at a time, allowing each team enough to compete in the playoffs. The suspension may carry over to next season.
►For the next two seasons, Clairton must play its home varsity boys basketball games at 4 p.m. Spectators are permitted.
►If Clairton and Monessen are scheduled to play one another in boys basketball during the next two seasons, those varsity games will take place at 4 p.m. with no spectators.
►The WPIAL will limit Clairton and Monessen to 30 presale adult tickets for this year's boys' basketball playoffs games. No tickets will be sold at the gate.
►Each school must adopt a sportsmanship program.
The schools can appeal to the PIAA.
Monessen coach Joe Salvino said his team will accept the WPIAL's decision.
“I do regret what went on, but that's what happened,” Salvino said. “I respect the WPIAL. I always have and I always will. They have a job to do. … I'll honor their decision.”
The two boys' basketball rivals had their section game halted by a fight in the fourth quarter last Tuesday, Feb. 6. The fight escalated to a brawl when fans left the bleachers and joined the melee.
The three on-court game officials who stopped the game with 4 minutes, 26 seconds left also attended the hearing. Monessen, which led 54-45, was declared the winner, but that outcome was changed Monday to no-contest.
The WPIAL has never imposed a five-year probation, said O'Malley, who thought the threat of a two-year ban was a strong deterrent.
“That's like SMU's death sentence … if you don't play for two years,” said O'Malley, referring to the NCAA's punishment of Southern Methodist football in the 1980s. “So I think the WPIAL board felt comfortable that that's a message sent.”
When the WPIAL basketball steering committee met Monday morning to create new boys' sections for next season, Clairton and Monessen were placed in different sections. Also, the two rivals were placed on opposite sides of this year's playoffs bracket, meaning they can't meet until the finals at Petersen Events Center.
Every basketball player who left the bench during the fight will be suspended one game under PIAA rules. The two players who started the fight already were ejected and suspended. However, the eight others already on the court at the time will not be suspended.
“No players remained on either bench when the melee began,” O'Malley said. “Therefore we are assigning to each school the responsibility to identify those players who came off the bench.”
The fight started directly in front of Monessen's bench.
“I do feel bad for some of the kids who were on our bench when, to be honest with you, we had nowhere to go,” Salvino said. “If you didn't leave the bench, you were going to get caught up in that stuff.”
Clairton athletic director Mike Linnert did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.