High School Basketball

KHSAA hears Cordia appeal, puts off decision until Nov. 12

Cordia  basketball coach Rodrick Rhodes, center rear,  huddled with his team  before a home game against Knott County  Central High School in 2011.
Cordia basketball coach Rodrick Rhodes, center rear, huddled with his team before a home game against Knott County Central High School in 2011. John Flavell

Cordia boys' basketball coach Rodrick Rhodes left the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's headquarters Wednesday afternoon not knowing whether his team will be allowed to play this season.

In late July, KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett informed Cordia that it was being hit with major sanctions for violations uncovered in a nearly yearlong investigation by the KHSAA.

The penalties included suspension of the boys basketball program for the 2014-15 season and postseason, probation for the school's athletic program through the 2018-19 season, and an aggregate fine of $25,980.

The KHSAA's Board of Control met Tuesday and Wednesday to hear Cordia's appeal of the sanctions. After more than 12 hours of testimony from more than a half-dozen witnesses and a dissection of the violations, the board did not decide whether to let the sanctions stand, nullify them or modify them.

The board will meet Nov. 12 to deliberate and make a decision.

Rhodes was hoping for a resolution Wednesday.

"I'm very disappointed for the kids," he said. "They're very excited about hopefully having a season. I'll tell them to wait a little longer."

The testimony portion of the appeals hearing, overseen by Judge John Adams, began Tuesday with Tackett expressing confidence in the findings of the investigation, and defending the penalties against Cordia, a small, public school in Knott County.

Tackett said the most difficult decision was to ban Cordia from competition this season.

"It absolutely killed me inside to take kids out of play," he said. "That should be the very last option we consider.

"But nobody was minding the shop in the basketball program. The basketball coaches were allowed to do whatever they wanted to do without regard to (KHSAA) regulations.

"It was my conclusion there was no institutional control at the school over the athletic program."

David Guarnieri, an attorney representing Cordia, questioned the veracity of the testimony (and affidavits) of some KHSAA witnesses, including former players and a former assistant coach.

Cordia's witnesses, including Rhodes, disputed claims that the basketball program violated KHSAA rules regarding recruiting, holding tryouts for prospective players, and giving benefits to athletes.

Rhodes said his status as a former University of Kentucky and NBA player has drawn attention to Cordia and resulted in parents or guardians of players contacting him. But Rhodes said he never discussed transferring with them, but instead always referred them to Cordia Principal Jonathan Mullins.

"I don't live in a bubble," Rhodes said. "But I understand the line."

Several of Cordia's players have come from inner-city neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey. Rhodes said their families wanted their kids in the safer environment of Knott County.

Rhodes denied ever conducting practices during the dead period or holding tryouts for prospective players.

"The microscope is on me in Eastern Kentucky," he said. "I'm paranoid. I don't let players practice when they're not supposed to, and there are no tryouts."

One violation involved Rhodes bringing a player to Lexington to buy him clothes. Rhodes admitted he did, and that he helped pay for the clothes with his own $50. But Rhodes said he did it out of compassion for the young man, who was ashamed to start school because he had nothing decent to wear.

"If that makes me a bad guy, ... " Rhodes said, his voice trailing off.

The KHSAA said Rhodes recruited Chris Hudson from Texas. Rhodes contended that his only contact with Hudson in Texas came through a friend when Rhodes was an assistant coach at Texas-Pan American. Rhodes said that was before he had any idea he would become Cordia's coach.

Cordia's connection with Lotts Creek Community School came under examination in regard to two other alleged violations: housing for players, and airfare provided for a player (Hudson).

Alice Whitaker, director of Lotts Creek Community School, said the school's relationship to Cordia is a long-standing tradition. Lotts Creek owns more than 100 acres, and has properties that serve as dormitories (and free housing) for some Cordia basketball players.

Whitaker said the housing is available to others in the community and school, not just athletes. Guarnieri said that would mean it's not a KHSAA violation.

Cordia also paid airfare for a player (Hudson) to make a trip to Texas to visit family.

Whitaker said she has done the same for other students who weren't athletes. Guarnieri said that since it wasn't a benefit exclusive to athletes, it wasn't a violation.

Rhodes said he took the Cordia job "to change young men's lives. I'm in it for all the right reasons.

"A lot of kids come (to Cordia), but we play by the rules. We're not cheating."

In his closing argument, Jason Ams, an attorney with the KHSAA, said there was "a pattern here: The rules do not apply to Cordia."

Ams said that the relationship between Lotts Creek and Cordia is "maybe a little murky," but it led directly to violation of several KHSAA bylaws.