Select, nonselect football championships to be on separate weekends

Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ--  John Curtis quarterback Myles Washington is closed in upon by U-High's Dylan Moses, background, and D'Vante Dotson in the 2013 Division II Select state championship game.
Advocate staff photo by ELIOT KAMENITZ-- John Curtis quarterback Myles Washington is closed in upon by U-High's Dylan Moses, background, and D'Vante Dotson in the 2013 Division II Select state championship game.

Plans for conducting select and nonselect football championships in 2014 were finalized on the first day of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s annual summer meeting. Some of the biggest news came from discussions that did not lead to a vote by the LHSAA’s executive committee.

The two-day meeting that began Thursday morning at the LHSAA office started with School Relations Committee chairman Mike Boyer of Teurlings Catholic making some sweeping recommendations aimed at easing tensions between its select schools, a group dominated by private schools, and nonselect or traditional public schools.

However, admission that a possible split of the LHSAA in all sports or other key sports could have a financial impact in terms of sponsorships also looms large. The annual meeting concludes with an 8 a.m. Friday session.

“I think what happens with sponsors is basically a business decision,” LHSAA President Todd Guice of Ouachita Parish High said. “If you’re investing your money in an association that has x-amount of schools and x-amount of participants and if that organization changed, it would be good business sense to step back and evaluate.

“Principals are going to have to start looking at all aspects of our association. And I think the executive committee is going to have to do a better job of letting people know how changes, like a split, can impact the association in other ways.”

The possible loss of sponsorships because of a split was pointed out during the marketing report.

Marketing Director Mitch Small said the LHSAA’s new six-year deal with the Allstate Sugar Bowl to become title sponsor of all major championships includes an “out” clause that would allow the Sugar Bowl to back out if there’s a split or if a significant number of schools choose to leave the association.

The biggest action approved was the committee’s vote to put the select and nonselect football championships on separate weekends. All four select football championships will be played Dec. 5 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome starting at 10 a.m.

The five nonselect championships will be played Dec. 12-13. The executive committee’s decision was based on a final recommendation from LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson with feedback from the School Relations Committee.

The School Relations Committee recommended three select title games on Dec. 5 but asked for help on Division IV, which last year had a 32-team bracket, while other select divisions had 16-team brackets and finished a week earlier.

A total of 87 percent of select schools approved separate weekends in an LHSAA survey. Division IV schools rejected a 16-team bracket in January, but Henderson said the fact select schools approved having title games Dec. 5, they agreed to a bracket reduction.

“What it comes down to is you can’t play five football games in one day, but you can play four,” Henderson said. “Had we been able to get to a point where we had eight championship games, we would have played four each day.”

Guice added, “I think it (separate weekends) fits the best for what we can do right now. The overwhelming consensus of the select schools was to split the weekends, so the teams would not have to play some games early. Friday was the only day that worked for the Dome because there’s a Saints game. We’ll do it for one year and then re-evaluate.”

The select schools also voted by a 97 percent to 3 percent margin to allow their schools to play up multiple divisions for championship honors if they wish. Allowing select schools to play up more than one division also was approved as part of Henderson’s proposal.

The School Relations Committee’s other recommendations were:

Requiring an audit of championship-winning schools. The audit would be more in-depth than a compliance check and designed to answer questions about whether a championship team cheated.

The committee recommended that member schools vote every two years on whether schools can play for championship honors. This measure is another means of oversight. Select schools would vote on the status of select schools, while nonselect schools would vote on their counterparts.

Schools would be required to play 70 percent of their games against LHSAA schools. Tournament games would not be factored into the equation. The idea is to keep schools from using a “national” schedule as a way to attract students.

Henderson said those School Relations Committee proposals will be studied and could be put on the agenda for all principals to vote on in January.

“We would have to see whether these things would hold up legally,” Henderson said. “And the second one (whether schools can play for championship honors) may not. We’ll have to see.”

Hot-button topics, eligibility transitional ninth-grade students and how to proceed with legislatively mandated third-party arbitration, were dispatched quickly.

The executive committee chose to delay discussion/planning for third-party arbitration until more information about how SB633 from Sen. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge, could impact the LHSAA.

The committee did instruct LHSAA attorney Brad Lewis to draft a resolution asking Gov. Bobby Jindal to veto the bill passed in the aftermath of the committee’s decision to deny eligibility to Episcopal’s Clement Mubungirwa, who sought eligibility as a 19-year-old. Mubungirwa was born 55 before the LHSAA’s cutoff date for 19-year-old eligibility.

“Obviously, as the nonpublic school rep, I wish we were more unified,” St. Thomas More’s Richard Lavergne said. “I think we are looking at all the options that are available.”

Brusly High Principal Walt Lemoine noted, “I think we’re pretty much at that crossroads now (with select/nonselect tensions). It’s been going on for years. And we did it (split) with football.

“There so much going on with common core and academics. We we can provide some stability in athletics.”