LHSAA, select schools to meet over playoff plan

No binding decisions will be made at Thursday’s select schools meeting.

But there will be two sides — the select schools and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association — seeking answers to major questions as plans to implement a football playoff system with separate divisions for select and nonselect schools takes shape for this fall.

“I think the important thing is to go in with an open mind and listen,” Parkview Baptist principal Don Green said. “But we need to get some specific answers from the association and some guidance from the LHSAA.

“One thing we need to know is who all the select schools are. And also, what makes one school a select school and another nonselect? What are the specific criteria? How will it be regulated? There are questions about charter schools, too.”

The meeting at 9 a.m. at the LHSAA office is expected to last between two and three hours, said LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson, who wants the meeting to function similar to the group’s annual convention meeting.

“It (agenda) won’t be finalized until later today (Wednesday),” Henderson said. “The idea I have is that we come in and present a series of plans and get input from the schools. We want to see what they like, and what they don’t.”

The ideal meeting for Henderson would end with select schools in attendance recommending a select playoff plan the LHSAA’s executive committee could ratify at its March 20 meeting. Once a plan is in place, the LHSAA could begin planning to extend its current championships from two to three days at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans or look for a second venue. The LHSAA previously has hosted five title games over two days at the Superdome.

Henderson said executive committee members have been invited to Thursday’s meeting, though he is not sure how many will attend.

Thursday’s meeting is the second the LHSAA has hosted since its member principals voted last month to split its football championships into separate divisions. The plan calls for select and nonselect schools to compete together in the districts that were approved for 2013-14 and 2014-15 and then branch off into separate divisions for the playoffs.

The largest division is for nonselect or traditional public schools and will consist of approximately 210 schools of the LHSAA’s 291 football-playing schools. The other division is for select schools, which includes private schools, magnet schools, charter schools, laboratory schools and dual curriculum schools with magnet components that draw 25 percent or more of their enrollment from outside traditional attendance zones.

Options and emotions

The original proposal by Winn-
field Principal Jane Griffin mandated five classifications for nonselect schools and two for select schools, though Griffin and other authors said they wouldn’t oppose changes to the select plan to offer more select classes.

Six days after the Jan. 25 vote, the LHSAA’s nonpublic school committee comprised of select schools met, and that meeting led to some intense moments as several administrators expressed displeasure with the split plan. Karr-New Orleans Principal John Hiser repeated his contention the split plan is a form of segregation.

Though Henderson presented a plan to provide a power-rating system for select schools and offered a plan for three select classes no agreement or vote was taken. Parkview submitted sample plans for three and four select classes. E.D. White Catholic president David Boudreaux was among those who suggested five classes should be offered to select schools.

“There are so many questions that people don’t have the answers for,” Catholic High Athletic Director J.P. Kelly said. “Catholic High enjoys competing with all the schools, public and private, and we’ve never won a state title in football and we’re OK with that.

“You have to remember, this is something we didn’t want or ask for. It was put on us. That’s why there’s so much emotion surrounding this. Ultimately, you want what’s best for student-athletes. Right now, you’ve got adults with two different opinions about what that is.”

University High Athletic Director Jill White hopes to see progress but is guarded in her optimism.

“The thing I want first and foremost is some relief for my school,” White said. “We’re the smallest 3A school with 200 boys to draw from and would have to play Jesuit and Rummel and other (5A) schools that have over 1,000 boys to choose from if there are two select divisions. And we’re not the only one in this situation. There are other schools in the same boat with us. My biggest concern is that things could be as contentious as the first meeting, and nothing will get done. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Updated data

Henderson said the LHSAA can provide some answers about dual curriculum schools. To date, the LHSAA has received data from less than half of the 20-plus dual curriculum schools and only two, Baton Rouge-based Scotlandville Shreveport’s C.E. Byrd, have submitted percentages that put them in the select category.

Captain Shreve, Carroll-Monroe, BR’s McKinley and Lafayette High have submitted percentages that would make then nonselect. Henderson said those percentages must be verified.

When asked about charter schools, Henderson said any school classified as a charter school before the fall would compete as a select school in 2013. This group would include schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System that could be converted to charter schools later this year and others currently in Louisiana’s Recovery District that might be revamped as charter schools.

What’s next?

Private/select school groups have held two major meetings since the convention. The first was held before the nonpublic school meeting and the other afterwards. Other smaller groups of private schools have also met.

Private schools make up the majority of select schools and have agreed to follow the LHSAA process that continues Thursday. Kelly, Green and The Dunham School’s Bobby Welch all noted forms of litigation and possible legislation to stop the split playoffs are options. Leaving the LHSAA to form a separate association is considered to be a final option.

Kelly said he sees select schools working with the split playoff system for 2013 and then evaluating their options.

Welch’s outlook is less optimistic.

“If all we talk about at this meeting is the playoff system, then I’m not sure what good it will be,” Welch said. “This thing needs to be delayed. But I think the die was cast when the vote took place. You have a majority that has spoken, and the LHSAA will be bound to follow what they want. If I was in the LHSAA’s position, that’s more than likely what I’d do.

“I’ll be honest, at Dunham we’re preparing for a worst-case scenario. That would include not being part of the LHSAA in the future.”