LHSAA landscape changing

By Robin Fambrough

Advocate sportswriter

The votes have been tallied. And regardless of your viewpoint, one thing appears certain: the Louisiana High School Athletic Association is heading into some rocky uncharted territory.

By creating separate football playoffs for select and nonselect schools, LHSAA member principals have changed the fundamental structure of an organization that was founded on the ideal that all its member schools would compete together for championships.

It’s true that all the schools will still compete together. They’ll be in the same districts. But one set of championships will now be separate based on criteria other than a member school’s enrollment. I have to say the whole thing makes sad.

That’s not because I’m a private school person. I’m not a public school, charter school or any other kind of school person.

I’m just a high school person and a sportswriter who has been running around high school gymnasiums and playing fields since I was a 6-year-old. I’ve covered high school sports in Louisiana for nearly 30 years.

Yes, I understand the reasons why many of the 206 voters who approved the split championships voted the way they did.

Frustration over recurring issues like recruiting, along with school things such as public school educational mandates, is enough to make people want to do something.

But is this right? I know other states do it and have for a long time. Separate championships for schools of different types, sizes and geographical locations take place everywhere. In those cases, it’s part of their culture.

Plenty of positive rhetoric was spun after Friday’s history-making vote. We were told the change will allow more schools to compete in the playoffs and give more schools the chance to win titles. We were told that times have changed, and the LHSAA’s rules haven’t kept up. We also were told that if this doesn’t work, things would change back.

When I was growing up in Kentucky, we had two basketball champions: one for boys and one for girls. That’s simple to understand. We had four or five football champions, and I never really fully understood that process. It was more geography-based with teams in large cities having their own champions.

That was Kentucky’s culture, and it has changed through the years so that teams around the state now play each other. These changes will evolve and become part of Louisiana’s culture.

I do have to respectfully disagree with those who compared the split football championships vote to votes that moved the LHSAA basketball tournaments to a combined format and now back to separate boys and girls tournaments.

Those votes changed the culture of one sport in a way that all schools shared together. The decision for split football championships based on select and nonselect status changes not only the culture of the sport, but also that of the schools.

All LHSAA schools will be in football championships, but they won’t be together except they will share a facility.

I don’t envy the LHSAA staff, which is now charged with filling in all the blanks and making a new playoff system work. One more day will likely be added to the football championships and there will be plenty of logistics to work out.

There figure to be plenty of questions the public and others, like the Louisiana Legislature, will be asking about the new system.

For example, under the new playoff system for nonselect schools, Class 1A won’t be able to fill out a 32-team bracket. There are 27 schools, which means that all 1A teams will make the playoffs regardless of their record. Five of those schools will receive first-round byes.

Meanwhile, the plan adopted calls for 48 schools in select Division II. Only 32 can make the playoffs and the proposal lists no criteria for how the 32 teams will be selected.

A person with no ties to Louisiana and all its emotional issues is likely to look at this and say that the playing field still isn’t level.

Executive Director Kenny Henderson made it a point to remind schools that Louisiana isn’t the only state that has issues with its own super teams in either football or basketball. Everybody is looking for some super solution.

I can’t predict where the LHSAA will go from here. While the vote was a victory for some, it brought a sobering dose of reality for others.

Will championships for other sports be split in the years ahead? Will private schools, charter schools and others become a minority group with a limited voice in the organization they belong to?

One of Friday’s speakers, Destrehan Principal Stephen Weber, said the world wouldn’t end if the split football playoffs plan was adopted.

And he’s right. But it has changed Louisiana’s world of high school sports as we know it.