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KCFA declines to lift suspension on defending national champion Nihon University

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

The opportunity for the Nihon University Phoenix to have a chance to defend their national collegiate championship has been denied.

On Tuesday night, the Kantoh Collegiate Football Association announced it refused to lift the season-long ban it handed to the Phoenix in May after an illegal tackle incident on May 6, when a Nihon University defensive player tackled a Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback a few seconds after the whistle was blown during an exhibition game.

As a result, the Phoenix will lose all the seven games in the Top 8 league this season by default, and they will be automatically demoted to the lower Big 8 division for the 2019 campaign.

“It is very significant for us not to have the Phoenix, who many people have had respect for in league history,” the KCFA chairman Yuji Kakizawa said. “We feel sorry for senior students of Nihon University, but at the same time we have to guarantee the players’ safety for other colleges’ students as the organizing body.

“I even feel furious against the Nihon University, which left accountability to the players.”

The Kantoh Collegiate Football Association, which declined to mention the players’ names during the press conference, on Tuesday decided in the board members’ meeting that the report submitted by the Nihon University American football team on July 17 was not good enough to lift the ban on the Phoenix.

The KCFA issued the ban in late May, but left open the possibility of reinstating the team to the Top 8 League. The governing body ordered Nihon University to submit a report that included an investigation into how the illegal tackle was made and improvement plans to prevent unsportsmanlike conduct from taking place again.

In the report, Nihon University admitted the illegal tackle was ordered by former head coach Masato Uchida and his former assistant, Tsutomu Inoue. Both men were fired from the college on Monday.

Also in the report, the Phoenix provided some improvement plans, such as prohibiting people in high positions at the school from becoming sports clubs’ head coaches or managers.

But the KCFA doubted that some of the plans can be executed properly because they involve not only the football club but all Nihon University sports clubs.

Since Uchida stepped down on May 19, the Phoenix head coaching position has been vacant. As one of the reforms, Nihon University decided to hire a new head coach from outside of the school and its alumni and organized a selection committee to choose the new coach.

The selection committee has reportedly chosen Isao Hashizume, who coaches at Ritsumeikan Moriyama High School in Shiga Prefecture. He helped the Ritsumeikan University Panthers, his alma mater, win back-to-back national championships during the 2003 and ’04 seasons as an assistant coach.