Fambrough: Will LHSAA convention contain its own storm?

Everyone has heard of the calm before the storm. How about a storm before the storm?

It’s one of the possibilities as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s annual convention begins Wednesday. Yes, once the convention begins.

Thanks to the second cold snap in a five-day period that brought with it ice and snow, Wednesday’s portion of the LHSAA convention set for the Crowne Plaza has been pushed back to the afternoon.

By now, everyone knows there’s a lot more than unseasonable winter weather pending. Whether member principals take action on a series of key proposals is the big question.

How will the LHSAA’s precedent-setting split football championships look in its second year? Will some classes vote to come back together?

Can member principals bond together enough to pass significant rule changes regarding attendance zones, transfers and classification that could help ease tensions among schools?

What happened last year caught people by surprise. The vote to separate the LHSAA’s football championships into separate divisions for select and nonselect schools broke 90 years of tradition.

In hindsight, I guess we should have known better. Two previous attempts to split the LHSAA into separate divisions for public and private schools had failed. A split that involved just one sport, albeit Louisiana’s crowning sport, was sold as a test run.

If it was only that simple. The vote exposed years of simmering animosity and some major differences between LHSAA schools that perhaps no one ever fully acknowledged.

Granted, this time it was a split of just one sport. And it wasn’t public vs. private schools, technically speaking. It was a split of nonselect/traditional public schools and select schools, a group that includes private schools, some charter schools, laboratory schools, full magnet schools and a small number of dual curriculum schools.

The things that transpired over the next few months weren’t pretty.

Select schools called the split “discrimination.” Nonselect schools questioned how select schools could dominate, football and other sports, without playing outside the rules. Traditional powers John Curtis and Evangel were cast as the primary villains but others garnered scrutiny.

LHSAA schools later found out that the split looked a bit different than when they envisioned it last January. A number of charter schools moved out of the select mix by proving they have open enrollment. The notion that dual curriculum schools would fill out the select school ranks fizzled.

The LHSAA settled on nine uneven football championships. No one dreamed of a playoff with 10 teams in one bracket and 15 to 16 in two others, but that’s what the LHSAA got. Nobody got the fact that Louisiana isn’t Texas. There aren’t enough schools to yield two somewhat equitable groups.

What the LHSAA also got was a dose of modern reality spiked by issues from the past.

Yes, it’s public vs. private schools once again. Reaction from schools on both sides also revealed that it’s also a north vs. south and rural vs. urban issue.

The majority of Louisiana’s private schools are in the south. Rural and even some suburban schools have a different culture, make-up and mindset from those located in cities with multiple schools.

It got ugly for quite a while. Maybe the best thing was these emotions made all sides put their cards on the table. Right or wrong, they said what they felt.

The split football championships did bring some new teams to the championship table, which was refreshing. Some small select schools liked it. But there also were some lopsided games. The three-day event attracted 58,116 fans, about 10,000 more than the LHSAA’s two-day, five-game event used to bring in.

Efforts by the LHSAA’s school relations committee to draft legislation aimed at easing tensions and correcting key issues is admirable. Unless principals take action, that work may not mean much.

Progress could take the form of some classes voting to merge its select/nonselect schools for the 2014 football championships. Of course, that would shift the problem to the remaining select groups.

Preventing a split in other sports is another key objective, though LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson made principals aware of a possible amendment to one proposal that would do just that. Time may or may not be of the essence. Major items involving attendance zone changes and transfers would require a vote to get off the table, so a decision could be delayed a year.

It took three tries over 16 years to get some sort of LHSAA split passed, though I contend principals didn’t look as closely as they should have before they leaped into the split last year.

This time, a leap of faith is needed. Principals, the next move is up to you. Watch your step.