LHSAA faces playoffs dilemma

By Robin Fambrough

It’s one of the things Louisiana prides itself on. Whether your taste is for gumbo and jazz or leans toward art and architecture, there’s something to embrace. Each area has its own unique feel and flavor.

Yet there also are times when diversity is the very thing that can pull us apart. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association faces such a dilemma.

Member principals are to consider two items at the LHSAA’s annual convention that would divide schools into separate playoff divisions. The convention begins Wednesday at Baton Rouge’s Crowne Plaza. On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal. But it is.

Other states, such as Texas, have separate organizations for public and private schools. The LHSAA was formed with the ideal that all schools would be equal members. And now, what is fair and equitable is at the heart of the debate.

Louisiana’s so-called nonselect schools feel others have an unfair advantage, whether it’s from recruiting, magnet academic programs or the ability to raise funds for facilities, equipment and travel. Select schools say they’d be unfairly cast into a separate playoff system they didn’t ask for.

One proposal would divide schools into separate playoffs for football and other major team sports starting in 2015-16. The other proposal would put schools in separate playoffs for football only, starting this fall.

Nonselect schools are defined as traditional public schools with attendance zones. Select schools include private schools, charter schools, magnet schools, laboratory schools, and dual-curriculum schools with a magnet component that draws a certain percentage of enrollment from outside their attendance zones. Select schools make up about 30 percent of the LHSAA’s 388 schools.

Twice before, in 1998 and 2004, the LHSAA membership rejected proposals to split into entirely separate divisions for public and private schools. The select/nonselect proposals offer a variation. Schools would play each other in the regular season before going to separate playoffs.

There are passionate people and yes, good people, on both sides of this issue. There’s talk about providing “a level playing field,” and those making proposals believe separate championships will do that. Questions about watered-down competition go unanswered.

There’s also a blame game with football acting as a lightning rod. All five state football champions last fall would be considered select schools.

Some blame the LHSAA for not enforcing rules, even though it doesn’t have legal authority or subpoena power. And the schools blame each other. Complaints of recruiting involve both public and private schools, yet few are submitted by schools for investigation.

Though it is considered primarily a football issue, the 73 Class B-C nonfootball schools will play a role in what is decided for 291 football schools.

Diversity may be the spice of life in Louisiana. Will decades-old traditions get burned? We’ll see.