An attorney representing defensive end TA Cunningham, the No. 1-ranked football prospect in California in the Class of 2024, filed an injunction Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, seeking the quashing of a ruling last week from the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Chapter that determined he was ineligible.
During the offseason, Cunningham, a junior, transferred to Los Alamitos High in Los Alamitos, California from Georgia, where his parents still reside. Attorney Michael Caspino’s filing calls for an “immediate order” that would make Cunningham eligible to play Thursday night.
“[The CIF and CIF Southern Section] provided no written explanation for their decision to ban [Cunningham] to play football this season,” the filing reads.
According to the filing, the decision by the CIF, California’s high school athletics governing body, “is based on the fact that [Cunningham] does not meet the definition of a “homeless student” and/or has failed to establish that their change of school was due to a “hardship”.
Cunningham’s petition disputed that claim 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 made contact with representatives of Levels Sports Group, a future sports marketing company set up to facilitate name, likeness and likeness deals, primarily for middle and high school athletes.
“The Levels team promised the Cunningham family would have a home, transportation and meals in California,” the filing reads. “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 August 16. 8 on several counts of sexual assault on a minor.
“After Flores was arrested, the Levels team went completely dark and did not respond to [Cunningham] and his family,” the filing reads. ” Ultimately, [Cunningham] requested that his contract with Levels be terminated. The levels complied with this request.
“Now, [Cunningham] is homeless. He did not receive the NIL offers promised by the Levels team. He was a victim.”
Caspino told ESPN that after providing CIF-SS lawyers with a statement to prove Cunningham’s struggles on Wednesday, the CIF-SS moved the goal posts. According to Caspino, a CIF-SS representative told him that while the organization no longer objected to Cunningham’s allegation of hardship, 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-registration contact with coaches prior to a transfer is prohibited, as are sport-motivated transfers. Historically, these rules have been difficult to enforce and are applied inconsistently across the state and section.
CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod declined to comment on Cunningham’s transfer in an email to ESPN, citing the policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.
“TA Cunningham is 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 September 1. 6, complaining about Cunningham’s move to Los Alamitos. The unknown author wrote, in part, “In football, the construction of illegal mega teams becomes dangerous for the players they face. Our concern is primarily focused on the possibility of exposure to devastating injuries while playing against players such as TA Cunningham.”
This was later linked to a story in which Cunningham was quoted as saying he had visited Los Alamitos and believed he could trust the coaching staff, indicating that pre-registration communication had taken place.
Caspino said he plans to present Cunningham’s case to a judge on Thursday afternoon.