Football playoffs highlight LHSAA meetings agenda

Since January, when Louisiana High School Athletic Association member principals passed a proposal that mandates split football championships, there have been several notable meetings and dates.

The next big date looming is Wednesday. That’s when the LHSAA’s executive committee begins its annual three-day summer meeting at the organization’s offices.

It also could be the day when the LHSAA board finalizes some all-important details for the 2013 football playoff plan that divides schools based on select or nonselect school status.

“We’re going to come in and look at the recommendations the school-relations committee made,” LHSAA President Todd Guice of Ouachita High said. “And from there, I’d like to think we’ll be able to make some decisions. We owe it to our schools, the athletes and fans to have something in place.”

Wednesday’s Baton Rouge-based meeting starts at 1 p.m., and a series of recommendations regarding the split plan and other select/nonselect school issues are among the first items the executive committee will attempt to tackle.

The executive committee also will decide on its two-year host championship sites for five sports, including baseball and boys and girls basketball on Wednesday. The executive committee also is set to meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and at either 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. Friday.

“The meeting is going to revolve around those things,” LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said of the select/nonselect issues and championship proposals. “We’ve got your other typical housecleaning things that we do every summer. And we’ve got a couple of requests, but nothing as important as those two items.”

One “house cleaning” item to note will be Henderson’s recommendation on the hiring of an assistant executive director to replace Rhonda Dreibelbis, who retired after the 2012-13 sports seasons.

Henderson said he has completed the interview process and is prepared to make that recommendation to the executive committee Wednesday.

Decisions, decisions

Guice said the executive committee will not look to postpone implementation of the split playoff plan that passed by a 206-119 margin by principals. For now, only one thing is certain: Select and nonselect teams will compete together in districts before branching off into separate playoffs.

The key issues will be deciding how many divisions there will be for select schools and where charter schools fall in this mix.

Guice and Henderson praised the work of the school-relations committee, which hashed out 11 recommendations during a two-day meeting in late April.

LHSAA leaders noted the school-relations committee may not be done yet. The school-relations group made up of select and nonselect school representatives is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before the start of the summer meeting. Henderson said those meetings will be closed to the media and the public.

“One important recommendation the school-relations committee made was that the vote in January should be honored this year,” Guice said. “You had select and nonselect members who felt very strongly about that. The question is how do we do that?”

The proposal passed in January calls for five football championship divisions for 242 nonselect, or traditional public schools; and two for select schools, a group made up of private, magnet, laboratory, charter and dual-curriculum schools.

Since then, the school-relations committee recommended offering five select championship divisions and to remove charter schools that have open enrollment policies from the list of select schools.

“We’re going to come in and review what we put together at the last meeting,” school-relations committee chairman Mike Boyer of Teurlings Catholic said. “Part of the reason for the five divisions was a concern about needing to follow the LHSAA constitution, which says football should be contested in five classes. Some people on the committee may have a new ideas, and there could be another plan added.”

The LHSAA staff has researched the charters of its member charter schools and has identified 11 New Orleans area schools that will be moved to the nonselect category, Henderson said.

Defending Class 4A football champion Edna Karr is one of two schools still to be evaluated. Baton Rouge’s most notable charter school, Madison Prep, was deemed a select school.

Henderson said the status of dual-curriculum schools won’t be a major factor. Only two dual-curriculum schools, Baton Rouge-based Scotlandville and Shreveport’s C.E. Byrd, have submitted percentages that will make them select schools.

The process to evaluate dual-curriculum schools is ongoing. To be deemed select, a dual-curriculum school must draw at least 25 percent of its enrollment from outside a traditional attendance zone.

Bridging the gap

Boyer and members of the school-relations committee will present their findings to the executive committee. Boyer said the school-relations committee’s other recommendations are just as important as the playoff plan.

Most of those items are aimed at diffusing tensions between select and nonselect schools. Henderson will have those items written as proposals that can be placed on the 2014 convention agenda.

“There’s a divide that exists because people don’t think the LHSAA is doing anything to address issues like recruiting,” Boyer said. “In reality, this committee has been working on these things all along. We’ve submitted some of these items before, and for one reason or another, they haven’t been put up for a vote.

“Instead of the executive committee picking some of these things apart and then passing on them, they need to turn them over to the membership and let them pick things apart and vote.”

The playoff picture

Guice said he believes the executive committee can decide between the two options for select schools: offering either two or five divisions. Henderson said considering any other alternative could lead to a specially called meeting for all principals, but Guice nixes that idea, at least for now.

“I really don’t see having a special-called meeting at this point,” Guice said. “I believe this is something we can handle, but that depending on how things go (at the summer meeting) that could change, I suppose.”

If the executive committee opts to keep the playoff plan that was approved, select schools in Class 5A to 3A would compete in one division and 2A and below would compete in another. The vast difference in enrollment numbers between 3A and 5A schools has prompted questions about safety issues.

But with a total of about 75 schools to choose from, filling out two complete playoff brackets would not be a problem.

However, if select schools are divided into five divisions based on the same enrollment guidelines used for nonselect schools, the breakdown might look like this: 10 schools in Division I, eight in Division II, 11 in Division III, 15 in Division IV and 30 in Division V.

Henderson said that if the five-division plan is adopted, most select schools would likely have two playoff byes: one for the first week of the playoffs and the other before the finals.

Dome sweet dome?

Henderson said the LHSAA should be able to host all its football finals, regardless of whether there are seven or 10, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome between December 6-9.

The LHSAA executive director said that seven divisions require games to be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as opposed to the Friday-Saturday format used for five title games.

A move to 10 title games would require the Prep Classic to expand to four days — Thursday through Sunday. Because the New Orleans Saints do not have a home game the weekend of the Prep Classic, this would be possible.

If there are seven games, Henderson said two games would be played Thursday and Friday with three games set for Saturday. The 10-game format would likely be two games Thursday and Sunday and three each Friday and Saturday.

Championship sites

The most intriguing bids will be those for baseball and the two basketball tournaments.

Southern University submitted a request to host Class 3A and 2A baseball only; Sulphur’s McMurry Park, site of four baseball championships in 2013, wants to host all seven. Sulphur is already the site of the LHSAA’s state softball tournament and its state swim meet.

The LHSAA returns to separate boys and girls state basketball tournaments after conducting combined regional and finals tourneys the past two years. Lake Charles’ Burton Coliseum is in the mix to host both tourneys and is a newcomer to the proposal process.

Hammond’s University Center at Southeastern Louisiana was the longtime host of the girls state tourney; Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum also has hosted the girls tourney. The Shreveport area’s Century-Link Arena and Louisiana Tech’s Thomas Aseembly Center also seek the boys tourney.