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- Joined ESPN in 2014.
- Attended Washington State University.
An attorney representing defensive end T.A. Cunningham, the No. 1-ranked football prospect in California in the Class of 2024, filed for an injunction Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, requesting to reverse a ruling last week from the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section that determined he was ineligible.
In the offseason, Cunningham, a junior, transferred to Los Alamitos High in Los Alamitos, California, from Georgia, where his parents still reside. The filing from attorney Michael Caspino asks for an “immediate order” that would make Cunningham eligible to play Thursday night.
“[The CIF and CIF Southern Section] have provided no written explanation for their decision to bar [Cunningham] from playing football this season,” the filing states.
According to the filing, the ruling from the CIF, California’s governing body for high school athletics, “is based on the grounds that [Cunningham] does not meet the definition of a ‘homeless student’ and/or has failed to establish that his change of schools was due to a ‘hardship.'”
Cunningham’s petition challenged that assertation by including photographic evidence that his family was evicted from their home earlier this year, resulting in the need to find a new school.
Around the time his family was evicted, Cunningham’s father connected with representatives from Levels Sports Group, a would-be sports marketing company created to facilitate name, image and likeness deals, mostly for college and high school athletes.
“The Levels Team promised that the Cunningham family would have a home, transportation and meals in California,” the filing states. “A promise was even made that the Levels Team would provide a separate home in Georgia for [Cunningham’s] mother.”
None of that materialized, according to the filing.
When Cunningham moved to California, he and his younger brother stayed at the home of Levels co-founder Chris “Coach Frogg” Flores, who was later arrested on Aug. 8 on multiple counts of sexual assault of a minor.
“After Flores was arrested, the Levels Team went completely dark and failed to respond to [Cunningham] and his family,” the filing states. “Eventually, [Cunningham] asked that his contract with Levels be rescinded. Levels complied with this request.
“Now, [Cunningham] is homeless. He did not receive the NIL deals that were promised by the Levels Team. He has been victimized.”
Caspino told ESPN that after he provided lawyers for the CIF-SS with a declaration to prove Cunningham’s hardship on Wednesday, the CIF-SS moved the goalposts. According to Caspino, a representative for the CIF-SS told him that while the organization no longer objected to Cunningham’s hardship claim, it had opened an undue influence investigation, during which Cunningham would remain ineligible.
The CIF-SS has several rules related to undue influence outlined in its bylaws, among which pre-enrollment contact with coaches prior to a transfer is prohibited, as are athletically motivated transfers. Historically, these rules have been hard to enforce and are applied inconsistently throughout the state and section.
CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod declined comment about Cunningham’s transfer in an email to ESPN, citing policy not to comment on pending litigation.
“T.A. Cunningham is being treated differently,” Caspino said. “He really is.”
As part of the filing, Caspino included the body of an email addressed to Wigod, among others, on Sept. 6, complaining about Cunningham’s transfer to Los Alamitos. The unknown author wrote, in part, “In football, building illegal mega teams becomes dangerous for players they face. Our concern is primarily focused on the possibility of exposure to devastating injuries while playing vs players such as TA Cunningham.”
It later linked to a story in which Cunningham was quoted as saying he took a visit to Los Alamitos and believed he could trust the coaching staff, indicating pre-enrollment communication occurred.
Caspino said he expects to present Cunningham’s case before a judge Thursday afternoon.
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