Park View place kicker Brandon Develli set a state record for extra points this season, converting 76 of 78 attempts through goal posts 23 feet 4 inches apart. He was as close as there was to a sure thing on the football field.
When the Patriots, trailing 21-20 with 9.7 seconds remaining, needed a 45-yard field goal in the Virginia AA Division 4 championship last Saturday at James Madison University's Bridgeforth Stadium, it seemed likely Develli's kick would give Park View a victory over Salem.
But when the attempt hooked left by a foot, Develli and the Patriots were heartbroken--not only because 12 inches separated them from a state title, but also because that kick would have been good on the fields where Park View played its 13 previous games.
College rules dictate that goal posts are two feet narrower than those on high school fields. That means that, in the biggest game of the season, two teams are playing on a field with different dimensions than they had played every game that season.
"The VHSL [Virginia High School League] shouldn't have let that happen," Develli said. "High school players should play on a high school field. College players play on that field because they're at a different level and they're preparing for the pros."
The VHSL was allowed to do this by way of a rule from the National Federation of State High School Associations, a body that governs 48 of the 50 states' high school athletics (Massachusetts and Texas are the exceptions).
Rule 1-3-1, Article 5, Section D says: "The uprights [for high school fields] shall be 23 feet 4 inches apart inside to inside and each upright may not exceed 4 inches in width. NOTE: It is permissible to use college or professional fields with goal post uprights set at the width specified by their respective codes."
The VHSL said it receives numerous complaints about its venues, but never one about field and apparatus dimensions.
"Our executive committee reviewed [the complaints] and decided you have to play on the best facility you can get," VHSL executive director Ken Tilley said. "We've gotten tremendous complaints in the past from players, coaches and parents saying that high school facilities aren't strong enough" for championship games. The teams "know the circumstances coming in, but they enjoy the environment."
Tilley and Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said neither state plans to consider changing its policy, deferring to the NHSF rule.
Installing portable or adjustable goal posts (that change width) was never considered, according to Tilley.
"I was under the impression they were going to change" the goal posts, Develli said.
Park View Coach Mickey Thompson was more upset that his team never had the opportunity to practice on the field, which has artificial turf. Tilley said the VHSL prohibits teams from practicing on different fields because there are cases where the venue is more accessible to one team, thus giving it an advantage.
"We asked [VHSL] over and over and over again, and they wouldn't allow us to practice there," Thompson said. "I say they should do it on a game-by-game basis. Look at us and Salem--we're both about two hours from Harrisonburg.
"Earlier in the season, we practiced on the Redskins' field once and the other team didn't. Was that fair? I don't know."