The Great Divide
A vote to divide select/non-select schools in post-season play could cause an LHSAA exodus.
While most of the bloodletting in Baton Rouge this year has come out of the Capitol, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) has done its best to add to the state’s political carnage.
At the LHSAA annual convention earlier this semester, the general assembly of the state’s principals and athletic directors voted 182-120 to expand the postseason playoff split between select (private, charter, university lab and magnet) schools and non-select (public) schools. This playoff split, seen in football for the last three seasons, will now be seen in boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball beginning this fall.
That means instead of the traditional five championship games in five classifications for the state’s football programs, there will be nine state championships, with non-select schools in five classifications (5A – 1A) and select schools in four divisions (I – IV). Additionally, instead of seven championship games based on classification (5A – C) in basketball, baseball, and softball, five divisions (I – V) will be added for select schools, making for 12 championship games in each of those sports.
While the majority of private and charter school officials did not want to split the association, public school leaders say they are required by law to take student athletes within their designated attendance zone and are at a competitive disadvantage to select schools that can admit, even recruit, they say, student athletes without geographic restriction.
The split — and resulting increase in the number of championship games — immediately brought several issues to the forefront, including increased expenses, revenue sourcing, logistics of adding playoff formats and host venues, and working within established contracts, which are usually signed two years in advance. LHSAA executive director, Eddie Bonine, said sponsors could pull out of their deals as a result of the playoff expansion.
Feeling forced out of the LHSAA, officials from many select schools have held meetings this spring to discuss the possibility of forming a new, separate athletic association open to all Louisiana schools, which could kick off in August.
A split like that could have a negative financial impact on local athletic programs, especially at area public schools, which face funding issues for academics, much less extracurricular activities.
When select and non-select schools play one another, game-day gate receipts are split evenly. More often than not, local select schools draw a much bigger crowd than their non-select opponents, so these games benefit the non-select schools. If select and non-select schools play in different associations, head-to-head match-ups will be much less likely to happen, if they even happen at all.
For non-select schools in more rural parts of the state, travel will likely increase and filling schedules will become more difficult due to the number of similar schools in the region. Both will drive up costs for their athletic programs. Because of the number of select schools in the New Orleans area, those effects will be felt less.
Like many New Orleanians, I’m reticent to change. When it comes to sports I’m a traditionalist, and don’t really cotton to the idea of the select/non-select split. The state’s public school leaders make compelling arguments, but I’d prefer to see all the state’s schools compete against one another to see which one is best. While having multiple championships allows for the opportunity for more of the state’s young athletes to gain a sense of accomplishment, those achievements are minimized when the competition they face is diluted.
Unfortunately for now, while select and non-select schools might share local stadiums, they won’t be in the same ballpark.
CPrice is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.