Fambrough: LHSAA punts playoff plan, but when will resolution come?

I never thought I’d say this, at least not in March, but I saw a high school football punt last week.

No player or team was involved. Just the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s executive committee.

Rather than make a ruling, the executive committee deferred its split football playoff plan to the LHSAA’s school relations committee for study.

This study is not necessarily meant to prevent the plan that divides Louisiana’s football-playing schools in select/nonselect divisions for the playoffs from going into effect this fall.

The school relations committee, comprised of select and nonselect school administrators, is charged with looking at what is now known as Article 18. Alternatives may be offered, but there are no guarantees.

LHSAA President Todd Guice, of Ouachita Parish High, plans to call a special meeting for all LHSAA principals to consider whatever the school relations committee comes up with, presumably at some point in June, after the report is received by the executive committee.

It’s the latest in what has become a bizarre scenario since LHSAA member principals passed the plan in January.

Aretha Franklin’s big hit was about RESPECT. For the LHSAA and Executive Director Kenny Henderson, it is now about CREDIBILITY.

Like it or not, the past two months have not been the best of times for the LHSAA. Sure, there was jubilation among nonselect, traditional public schools who cheered when the split football playoff plan passed.

Private schools, charter schools, magnet schools and some dual-curriculum schools would be required to play in separate football playoff divisions. In fact, all five 2012 football champions would have had to play in the select division.

However, the LHSAA also has come under attack on several fronts. One of the charges is the LHSAA isn’t following its own rules.

The first example came Feb. 20 when select schools pointed out contradictions between Article 18 for football and other parts of the LHSAA’s constitution at a meeting.

Then, less than a week later, the executive committee voted to suspend its rule that prohibited a team from being placed on the bracket because of forfeits etc., less than 48 hours before the game. The ruling came slightly less than 48 hours before a girls basketball semifinal.

A two-day legal battle ensued before St. Michael the Archangel had less than an hour to prepare to play Salmen, a team that had lost its quarterfinal game to a Vandebilt Catholic team that had used an ineligible player.

The whole scenario was ugly for all three teams involved. Several times that week I was asked, “Why doesn’t the LHSAA follow its rules?” I couldn’t offer an answer.

Select schools were hoping the executive committee would share a legal opinion on the constitutional questions regarding Article 18 at its meeting last week. Instead, those on hand and the media were told the ruling was privileged communication intended for the executive committee only.

Henderson said the opinion was inconclusive and didn’t provide a definite direction. That response prompted skepticism, something that is becoming common when the LHSAA is mentioned.

There has been talk about transparency, but thanks to the recent state Supreme Court decision deeming the LHSAA a private organization, the LHSAA doesn’t have to provide it, which leads to more skepticism.

It is no secret that animosity between select and nonselect schools has escalated since Article 18 passed. Principals on both sides of the issue have asked Henderson to take a stance one way or the other, and he has steadfastly said he will remain neutral. The executive committee is doing the same by passing the plan on to the school relations committee. Those decisions have raised questions about the LHSAA’s leadership.

Henderson has noted there are possible alternatives out there based on what other states are doing.

Indiana uses a championship points system in some sports. If a school compiles a certain number of points by winning championships or advancing deep into the playoffs, it must move up in class in that sport.

Ohio is pondering a rule that would require schools, public or private, that draw a high percentage of their enrollment from outside their attendance zone to play up in classification.

Texas is considering options for charter schools. Arkansas has a percentages formula for schools in metropolitan areas that draw students from more than one nearby attendance zone.

Unfortunately, a study of plans like these should have been done before Article 18 was approved, not after. Did the LHSAA drop the ball here? Or did the schools on both sides take things for granted? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

And that’s where the student-athletes are stuck — in the middle of issues spawned by adults.

The reality is there is no easy fix for the schools or the LHSAA. Actually, it’s the LHSAA that’s in a fix.