Playoff debate on agenda for LHSAA's January convention

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana High School Athletic Association is set to tackle the controversial  issue of splitting its football playoffs into select and non-select divisions  when  principals gather in January and just like last year’s meeting, the 2014 confab is guaranteed to generate strong opinions each way.
The biggest proposal to be considered on the January agenda is one that would allow each class to choose whether to subdivide into select and non-select divisions for football. That proposal was adopted at the LHSAA’s executive committee meeting last week in Baton Rouge.
Locally, Crowley High football coach and athletic director Josh Fontenot and Notre Dame head coach and AD Lewis Cook have their own opinions on the matter.
“I think if each class gets to vote, I could see 4A voting to allow them (select schools) back because it (split)  really just eliminated St. Thomas More and Teurlings,” said Fontenot, whose team was eliminated in the regional round of the Class 4A playoffs by No. 2-seed Karr.
  “When you’re dealing with just two schools, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
“But if you (principals) go back to what you stood for as to why you divided in the first place, then they may all say no.”
Fontenot admits, he has no problem with how the vote goes.
“To me, there’s good and bad both ways,” he said. “Splitting has its benefits and I think there are things that are bad about it as well.
“I don’t worry about it because it doesn’t change the way I coach. I’m going to prepare to try and beat Karr and the best teams in 4A. If you add STM and Teurlings to the mix and they are two of the better teams, then you have to prepare to be at that level anyway.”
Thus far, Fontenot sees no problems with the way this year’s split has gone.
“I think the split has gone well,” he said. “People thought maybe it would water down competition, and maybe in the first round it did. But after that you’re back to playing some pretty high competition at all levels, select or nonselect.”
Across town, Cook said he has mixed emotions and specific concerns.
On a positive note, he said, the proposal would give the principals of football playing schools a chance to voice their opinions without the input from Class B and C principals who don’t have teams in the fight.
“Last year when it was voted on, it was a football issue, but every principal had a vote,” said Cook. “So Class B and C schools were able to vote and they don’t have anything to do with football.”
On another note, Cook said the proposal could open a can of worms and have unintended consequences in the future.
“The only thing that I see is that now you’re going to set a precedent by voting by classes,” he said.”You’re letting classes decide what they want to do in football so what’s going to stop Class B from wanting a 24-second shot clock in basketball? Or Class 3A saying they want to add the hammer throw to the state track meet?
“Now we’re getting away from what’s best for the whole association. It’s going to be what’s best for 5A football or Class B saying what’s best for them in basketball. I mean, where does it stop?”
However it turns out, Cook has high hopes that unity will be brought back to the association.
“I was never for the split,” said Cook. “I think it does take some of the prestige off football in Louisiana, I think it kind of diminished that a little bit by us separating.
“There’s some teams that played in the semifinals that realized they might not have been playing if it hadn’t of split and they’re just as happy as can be because they were looking at a chance to be in New Orleans next week which might not have happened without the split.
“Those fans are in the stands and they aren’t worried about if it’s watered down or it’s not watered down; they have a chance to go to New Orleans and that’s not all a bad thing. It’s just the message that we sent: these teams are stronger so let’s put them on this side and give more of these teams a chance.
“I just felt that the association was going to be hurt more than anything else and I want the LHSAA to stay strong and be a good association. That’s why I always felt it was in our best interest, as far as the association goes, not to split.”
LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said he believes  the views on the split playoffs continue to shift.
“When this first passed in January, the reaction was that the sky was falling,” said Henderson. “Now, we’re looking at the Superdome in two weeks and some teams that have never been there before will be. Some people are now thinking split championships is the best thing since sliced bread. It changes every week.”
Henderson’s plan to reclassify schools in five divisions for football and six classes overall for all sports was also discussed. Success factor proposals, one for football and the other for all sports, that would require teams to play up in class for two years based on past success, were discussed as well.
Other proposals added to the agenda included:
*Giving baseball pitchers a limit of 14 innings in a five-day period.
*Eliminating the football playoff pairings announcement meeting.
*Offering schools in 1A, B and C the option to play eight-man football.

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