Southport boys basketball team reinstated for IHSAA state tournament

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Southport High School boys basketball will get to play in the state tournament after all.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association released the following statement:

The IHSAA and Southport High School have each received and reviewed new information regarding the boys’ basketball team. In light of the new information, and in the spirit of compromise, the IHSAA has agreed to accept a suspension of the varsity coach from January 2020 to the end of this season, including the IHSAA tournament, so that the varsity team may compete in the 2020 IHSAA boys’ basketball tournament.

This is a big reversal.

IHSAA's commissioner, Bobby Cox, said both parties submitted materials for the case before Wednesday. Cox said legal counsel from Perry Township Schools and Southport High School reached out to him on Tuesday night, the day before the hearing. He said they asked a request to mediate a potential settlement.

"I think they found some items in our statement that they might not have been aware about with respect to their coach and what has been going on and what we have discovered," Cox said.

Cox claims Southport's head basketball coach, Eric Brand, tried to recruit multiple students who were possibly from outside the country.

"We don’t know exactly how long those communications have been going on, but we have an idea they have been going on for the last year," Cox said.

Perry Township Schools said they did not have anything to add to IHSAA's statement on Wednesday morning. We also reached out to coach Brand, and as of Wednesday night, we are still waiting to hear back.

Cox said he thought the revised suspension was a more appropriate punishment.

"I did feel badly about the young people at Southport that didn’t get to play in the basketball tournament for no wrongdoing on their part. This was a failure by an adult," Cox said.

This all started when coach Brand signed a more than $5,000 check to secure the F-1 student visa of a 15-year-old basketball player from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

An F-1 student visa is designed to allow a foreign student to come study in the United States. At a public school, this visa only lasts for 12 months, and the student has to pay the school system a reimbursement for the cost of the student's education.

The school district said the man who brought the teen to the U.S. failed to pay the required reimbursement. That's when coach Brand said a basketball boosters' non-profit group, that he is in charge of, raised enough money to pay for the visa status and signed the check.

The IHSAA said that payment is tied to recruiting, which is not allowed.

The school district wanted to suspend coach Brand for two games, but we now know that changed to a suspension from January 2020 through the end of the season.

IHSAA said the student is still ineligible to play this year, and the athletic department was placed on probation for a year.

Cox said coach Brand will be able to coach a few more games before the suspension begins.

"Hopefully, this will become a lesson that we need to abide by our rules. These are the rules that are agreed upon by the membership," Cox said.

An immigration attorney in Indianapolis said the 15-year-old will need to get another visa to stay in America unless he goes to a private school.

"If a student violates that, they cannot be able to come back to the United States for five years," said John Broyles, an immigration attorney. "He’s probably going to be restricted in what he’s able to do as far as stay here long term."

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