Split issue rises again for LHSAA

CROWLEY – To split or not to split, that is the question once again facing the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

The LHSAA’s member principals voted against attempts to split the association into separate divisions for public and private schools twice before - in 1998 and then again in 2004.

But the issue has surfaced once again and it will be revisited at the LHSAA’s annual meeting that is set for this week - Jan. 23-25 - in Baton Rouge.

“This could change the face of the LHSAA,” said executive director Kenny Henderson during a recent area meeting in Bossier City.

Although there are a number of proposals for rule changes in multiple sports, the one issue that stands out the most is one simply labeled Item 18.

Item 18 deals with the select/non-select issue which in years past was referred to as public and private. The proposal is just for football postseason play and would go into effect in the fall.

Under Item 18, “Schools shall compete in Classes 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A and shall compete in districts as adopted by the LHSAA Executive Committee. The schools in each district shall consist of both select and non-select admission schools. Effective for the 2013-2014 season and thereafter, football schools shall be sub-divided into select admission and non-select admission schools for playoff competition”.

A non-select admission school is a public school that has a designated attendance zone. For playoff competition, schools that are classified as non-select schools shall compete in Classes 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A, and 1A.

A select admission school is a public or non-public school that has an admission policy to select the students who attend the school. Select admission schools shall include all non-public, charter, university lab, and magnet schools.

Dual-curriculum schools that include at least 25 percent of their enrollment as select admission students who do not live in the designated attendance zone shall also be included as a select admission school. For playoff competition, schools that are classified as select schools shall compete in two divisions.

Schools in Classes 5A, 4A, and 3A shall be combined to form Division I and schools in Classes 2A and 1A shall be combined to form Division II.

For select admission schools, 32 teams shall qualify for the state playoffs. The head coach of each team in each division will seed the respective teams in their division.

Each coach will receive an information sheet containing the teams in their division. The information will include the team’s district finish, overall record, district record, power ranking and strength factor. The coaches will rank the teams in their respective divisions, 1-31 (1 being considered the best team in the state. Each coach will leave their respective team out of the ranking.

All five of the LHSAA’s football state champions this past year would be classified as select schools under Item 18 while only three public schools - Barbe, Neville and Haynesville - played for titles.

As expected, there is mixed emotions heading into next week’s meeting.

“The LHSAA has been a really good organization,” said Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook. “They have a lot of tradition and a lot of history and if this proposal passes, it won’t ever be the same. There’s talk that if it does pass, a lot of the private schools may form their own league.

“I would just hate to see it split. Are there some problems? Yes there are. And it’s on both sides. I just think we’re reacting to something that a very small minority has taken off with. I would rather try and find a way to keep it together.”

Crowley High coach Josh Fontenot says there are pros and cons for each side.

“I think the good side of it is that it puts public schools in a league where you feel like you are competing against other schools that have the same limitations that you do,” said Fontenot. “On the other side, I think our state is too small for that (split). I don’t think that Louisiana is a big enough state to be able to divide up our schools.”

Fontenot also feels that splitting up into the select and non-select would hurt the majority of the private schools in the lower classifications, especially.

“I think that you have some Catholic schools, or private schools or select schools, however you want to call it, that do more wrong than others,” said Fontenot, who attended Sacred Heart of Ville Platte during his prep days. “Sacred Heart doesn’t recruit and I know that for a fact because I went there.

“If you classify schools like Sacred Heart with other schools that are supposedly breaking the rules, they don’t have a prayer. So are we doing something to the whole of our state and athletic association just to get rid of a just few schools or are we really trying to help the whole and make it a better thing.

“To be honest with you, I’m back and forth on it. Sometimes I think it would be a good thing and sometimes I think it’s not.”

Proponents of the split are hoping that if it passes, it will create a level playing field for all schools involved.

Cook begs to differ.

“There’s never going to be a level playing field no matter what,” said Cook. “There’s always going to be some public schools that have an advantage over other public schools just like it is for private schools.

“To say we want to create a level playing field, I don’t think that’s very realistic. Now, can we bring it closer together?  I think that we can.

“I’m on the way out, but I don’t think a split is the answer, to separate schools whether it would be for the playoffs only or for the whole season or create another association for schools to pull out and get in. I just don’t think it’s good for the state of Louisiana and for athletics.”

One thing both coaches can agree on is that a split would somewhat degrade the accomplishment of winning a state title.

“You know, I’ve been around a long time and I’ve been blessed to have coached on the public side and the private side and won championships on both sides,” said Cook. “I know that the championship we won at Crowley High means a whole lot to a lot of people and we know that it was won with every school in the state participating. No one can take that away.

“Same thing with the two championships that we won here at Notre Dame. It was won against all comers.”

Fontenot, who just wrapped up his first season as a head coach at Crowley High, feels the same way.

“For me, as a coach, if we’re going to win a state championship at Crowley High, I want it to be (against) everybody in our state,” said Fontenot. “I don’t want it to be a state championship that has an asterisk by it or is called a public school state championship or whatever you want to call it. I want to do it by beating those so-called select schools because they are part of what we have here.

“Do I think it’s fair all the time, the way the rules are set up for certain schools? No. But like we tell our kids all the time, life isn’t fair. Go deal with what you have to deal with.”

There are two other proposals on the agenda that deal with the same issue but have slight variations from Item 18.

Item 8, which was purposed by former South Beauregard principal Marlin Ramsey and tabled last year, is basically the same as Item 18 but has a different time frame. Item 8 would not go into effect until after the next round of reclassification.

The key difference, aside from the time frame, is the percentage of students enrolled in dual-curriculum schools. In Item 8, it takes 33 percent of students who do not live in school’s designated attendance zone to make that school be considered select. Item 18 reduces that number to 25 percent.

A third proposal involves separation in the playoffs for all sports.

“There’s so many questions and concerns and there needs to be a lot of discussion on it to make sure everybody knows exactly what’s going to be what,” said Cook. “And maybe those questions will be answered, I don’t know.

“I know the one (proposal) that’s football only is supposed to be effective immediately while the one that’s all-sports doesn’t go into effect until 2015. I think by that time, we would at least have had a chance to figure out what the best situation would be. I don’t know that jumping into it in the next year is the way to go.

“That’s just me. What’s the best thing? Heck I don’t know. I’ve been in this organization for so long and the older you get, the less change you want to see. I’d rather not see a whole bunch of change in there.”

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