A plan to subdivide the Louisiana High School Athletic Association into two separate but equal public and private school groups within the framework of the LHSAA needs more work, the body’s executive committee told the plan’s spokesman March 26.
Michael Boyer, the principal of Teurlings Catholic in Lafayette and the chairman of the LHSAA's School Relations Committee (SRC), met with the executive committee to explain the SRC proposal that would subdivide the LHSAA into two groups – for public and private schools – under the umbrella of the LHSAA.
The SRC plan would replace the 27-member executive committee with two smaller governing bodies, consisting of four principals, one athletic director and one coach each from both public and private schools.
Under the plan, both sides would continue to share common elements of the LHSAA, such as marketing, the organization's headquarters building, eligibility rules and the hall of fame. One of the main issues would be how the separate bodies would handle their own finances.
The SRC was asked by the LHSAA in January to find an alternative for public and non-public schools to co-exist in the future under the umbrella of the LHSAA. At a January meeting, the majority of public school principals voted to maintain separate playoffs for football but also tried to ramrod a proposal to have separate playoffs for all other LHSAA sports.
That vote triggered an avalanche of conversations among private and parochial schools to abandon the 93-year-old association and form their own league.
A select group of Catholic school administrators from the state's seven dioceses met in Baton Rouge March 24 to discuss the future of their schools’ athletic programs. Those discussion included remaining as members of the LHSAA or operating outside the association.
Although the LHSAA executive committee saw some positive aspects of the SRC plan, they considered Boyer’s presentation “a preliminary outline” with difficult elements to be defined and agreed upon by two groups of principals who are polarized by recent actions.
“I have a lot of concerns (about the association),” said LHSAA executive director Kenny Henderson. “The public schools feel that private schools win too many championships, and private schools feel they’re not wanted in the association. This is nothing new, and that’s why we’re in this situation looking for a way out. And we have to find a way to address this because going down the same road is not going to get us there.”
Boyer said the SRC plan may be the answer but admitted there are several details to work out before it is brought before the general membership of principals. He said the key issue would be how the financial aspects of the plan would be handled.
“We’re trying to find a win-win solution, if we are going to split all sports,” Boyer said. “Not only does this plan handle all championship sports, but it is also a plan to adjust the governance of the LHSAA so that we can exist under the LHSAA umbrella and possibly be two-tiered with a public school side and a private school side.”
Under the separate-but-equal plan, the LHSAA would oversee its own operations, but public and non-public schools would have more say in how they operate, decide if they want to continue to play each other at all, determine how many classes each will be and how their championship playoffs and tournaments will be structured. It would also do away with the executive committee.
“I told the executive committee that the hardest group to convince that this is a good thing is them, because they are the ones who will have to agree to put this on the table for a vote and dissolve what they are right now,” Boyer said following the lengthy closed-door meeting. “There would be a rebirth of administrators in leadership position with the LHSAA, but it would not be as we know it today.”
The question is whether or not the executive committee, elected by the nearly 400 principals of LHSAA member schools, take the power out of their own and their constituents’ hands in favor of two smaller governing bodies.
“I told the (executive) committee that we’re spending a good amount of time on this, and if you’re not going to put it on the table, tell us now and that will allow us to work on something else and be a positive influence as we move forward," Boyer said. "And not one person said, 'Don’t go forward.'”
The SRC will revise its plan to present at the LHSAA summer meeting. It would not take effect until the 2015-16 school year.
LHSAA vice president Vic Bonnaffee, principal of Central Catholic of Morgan City, said the plan has merit but pointed out it is "in its early stage."
"There’s an awful lot of study that has to be made," Bonnaffee said. "There is a lot of personal information about the LHSAA that needs to be conveyed to the public.
“After (Boyer) makes his report on the status of where they’re going, I think it needs to be made by an objective, neutral committee that has credibility to go out and tell all the regions what the proposal is going to be. To me, facts make decisions, and the explanation and the clarity of facts make people understand what’s going on. Right now there are too many pieces unrelated and tied together that are causing mass confusion, taken out of context and being communicated incorrectly.”
Bonnaffee said some key questions are how finances would be handled by separate groups within the LHSAA, how divisions and districts would be carved out in a split, what benefits and disadvantages would there be in staying together, and whether or not the National Federation of State High Schools would recognize the split.
As the No. 2 man on the association’s governing body, Bonnaffee said giving up his position is not an issue to him.
“You can always create a new governing body and reorganize yourself to make it work," he said. "I don’t think the dynamics of a group is a reason to make a plan or not to make a plan. You devise a plan that’s best for the members of the association and the kids in Louisiana. If this is not the (best) governing body and some other is, that’s fine, as long as the new body benefits the students of this state.”
In other business, Henderson said he would like to accommodate select schools that want to hold their championship football games on a Friday – one week before the non-selects play their championship games. Last year, because nine championship games had to be played at the Louisiana Superdome, the select schools had to play on a Thursday night.
“The select schools have a bye week at the end of the playoffs, which we could use to play the games a week before the non-selects play," Henderson said. "And we are negotiating with the (Mercedes Benz) Superdome to get that Friday. But we won’t know until the NFL releases its schedule. For all we know, they may schedule the Saints to play a home game on that night.”
Henderson said they discussed playing on the previous Saturday, but that would clash with the SEC championship game and adversely affect the crowd. Henderson noted that because the select schools draw well and bring in revenue, he would like to accommodate them with Friday games if the dome is available.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.