Judge rules in favor of forfeit for Dons

February 14, 2017 GMT

The fat lady isn’t singing quite yet.

She was supposed to belch out a show-stopper on Monday morning, bringing an end to the weeks-long drama surrounding the West Las Vegas boys basketball team’s ongoing dispute with the New Mexico Activities Association.

Instead, all she did was clear her throat.

A Las Vegas district judge ruled in favor of the NMAA’s decision to force West Las Vegas to forfeit at least three games to district rivals St. Michael’s and Las Vegas Robertson, officially canceling Friday’s regular season finale between the Dons and Horsemen in Santa Fe.

It’s the latest fallout in an investigation that revealed a West Las Vegas assistant coach violated NMAA policy by gathering video at a Jan. 17 game between Robertson and St. Michael’s, an act that is prohibited in the association’s bylaws. Third-party recording is allowed only if the other schools accept written consent in advance.

Monday’s decision may have left the door open for another ruling later this week, possibly next. District judge Abigail Aragon denied a preliminary injunction filed on behalf of the team’s players by head coach David Bustos and assistant Steve Sandoval.

The temporary restraining order allowed West Las Vegas to play — and beat — crosstown rival Robertson the night of Feb. 8. Aragon did not rule one way or another on that game, writing in her decision that both sides are ordered to submit briefs to the court by this Friday.

Las Vegas attorney Arthur Bustos, who represents the basketball team in this case, said the case would probably have to go to trial if they wanted to pursue it any further.

“The schools and the kids don’t have the money to do this,” he said. “Court proceedings are expensive, you know. West Las Vegas doesn’t have the money to do it. Bottom line is all the schools are losing money because of this.”

Even the NMAA didn’t seem to know the fate of that Feb. 8 game. Assistant director Dusty Young said the association was looking into the matter. He did, however, offer a short statement about Monday’s ruling.

“The NMAA is pleased with the court’s decision,” he said.

West Las Vegas superintendent Chris Gutierrez appeared to conceded all four games were lost to forfeit, saying last week’s game was nothing more than a scrimmage between city rivals played before a packed gym. By Monday night the website maxpreps.com had changed the result of that Feb. 8 game to a 2-0 Robertson victory.

“I feel we’re at the point where we have to accept it and just move on,” Gutierrez said.

As for the issue of prohibiting third-party recording, St. Michael’s head coach Ron Geyer said he’s in favor of it. He said he has never been asked by a third party to record one of his games for scouting purposes. Even if he’d gotten it this time, he likely would have refused.

“I’m kind of traditional,” he said. “If you’re not the coach involved in that game, you can still scout the old fashioned way without the use of video. That’s especially true of district games because you see so much of the other teams anyway.”

At stake is postseason seeding for every team in District 2-4A. West Las Vegas’s four losses will cost it the regular season title. Robertson sits alone in first place with two games remaining and with a win at Taos on Tuesday coupled with a West Las Vegas win at Pojoaque Valley, the Cardinals clinch the championship and an automatic bid to the Class 4A state tournament.

West Las Vegas could drop as far as fourth in the final standings despite not actually losing a game on the court. All four of its losses would be by forfeit.

Pojoaque athletic director Matt Martinez is the chairman of District 2-4A. He said the district’s coaches will convene Sunday morning to finalize the pairings for next week’s 2-4A tournament. If Aragon doesn’t make a decision by Friday, he said the plan is to move ahead as if she ruled against West Las Vegas.

“We have to assume all four games are forfeits and play the tournament,” he said. “We can’t wait forever.”

Geyer said he didn’t understand how this process made it as far as it did.

“It’s black and white as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I’ve felt all along that if it’s a rule, the NMAA has to enforce it and we all have to live by it.”

An interesting side effect to all this is the pursuit of the individual career scoring record by West Las Vegas senior DJ Bustos. He scored 23 points in the Feb. 8 win over Robertson and followed that with 34 against Taos last Saturday.

Those two games pushed him past Arthur A. Romero Jr. for the all-time scoring record in New Mexico high school history. With the 23 he had against the Cardinals likely gone, he’ll enter Tuesday’s game at Pojoaque just two points shy of Romero’s record of 2,591. Forfeit upheld, Bustos would have 2,589.

Then there’s the matter of lost revenue. During his research, Arthur Bustos estimated that Robertson stood to lose approximately $10,000 in revenue from the forfeited game of Jan. 20, which the Cardinals were to host at Michael Marr Gymnasium. Bustos said that West Las Vegas generated approximately $4,300 in ticket sales from the Feb. 8 game, but that another $550 was raised in a 50-50 raffle and another $3,100 likely came from concession sales.

Geyer didn’t say how much St. Michael’s was projected to lose with the cancellation of Friday’s game at Perez-Shelley Memorial Gymnasium, although he did say it was significantly less than the figures bandied about by Bustos.

Bustos didn’t appear optimistic about getting the Feb. 8 game to count.

“The court process isn’t really an adequate remedy,” he said.

“They did what they could to try to get the games back on and, as the district, before this happened we did everything in our power to try to resolve the situation but the judge and the district — I guess the judicial system has spoken and we have to abide by what they say and just go from there,” Gutierrez said.