LAFAYETTE — Early Friday morning, the LHSAA announced at a news conference that the split between the state’s public and private schools for postseason competition — a hot button topic that’s caused division among the state’s ranks since its 2013 adoption — had been found unconstitutional, according to the organization’s constitution.
The immediate reaction from those in the Acadiana area, regardless of what side of the fence they reside on, was shock and confusion about what lies in wait as the LHSAA gets ready to tour the state for area meetings next week.
“I was just a little bit surprised as I’m sure everybody was,” said New Iberia football coach Rick Hutson. “I hadn’t heard any questions about it. But that’s the way a lot of legal decisions are made — something is legal until somebody finds a problem with it, then it becomes illegal.”
LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said in a news release that the organization was looking over the metro/rural plan initially put forward by Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook — which would divide the schools by population density rather than public or private status — when it discovered that the select/non-select division of 2013 did not abide by the organization’s constitution.
This centers around rule 8.7.2, which states that “Divisions involving two or more classifications may be created by the Executive Committee to provide competition in certain sports.”
The LHSAA said Friday that the necessary steps were not followed in 2013, and the decision to split was therefore constitutionally invalid.
“It almost goes back to, ‘We told y’all so,’ ” said Teurlings Catholic principal Mike Boyer. “I know when we were processing this in 2013, myself and several people stood up to the executive committee and the audience that was there and pointed out reasons why we thought it was unconstitutional.
“The lawyer at the time disagreed with us. Apparently their new lawyer, in doing some research, found that it was (unconstitutional). It’s kind of interesting. So we are where we were in 2013 today.”
Said St. Thomas More Athletic Director Kim Broussard, “I guess it’s kind of ironic that when (the split) happened, you had an attorney hired by the LHSAA who evidently didn’t see this as being unconstitutional. Now the new lawyer, Mark Boyer, … he’s reading it differently. So evidently there is a little gray area in how he’s reading it. I’m not saying he’s wrong, but I’m kind of confused as to why, without any change in the constitution, that three years ago it was constitutional and now all of a sudden it’s not constitutional.”
Many of the people The Advocate spoke with in the Acadiana area Friday were in favor of merging public and private schools back together, as Friday’s news accomplished, at least temporarily.
What people did not understand or agree with was the timing of the message’s release. School administrators still do not have copies of the agenda for the 2016 annual meeting, which will take place in two weeks, and feel completely unprepared for next week’s area meetings.
“I think some of the guys are going to be pretty upset that this has been sprung on them right at the last minute,” Cecilia football coach Terry Martin said. “And it contradicts everything that was voted on. I don’t know. I’ve talked to a lot of different people, and nobody really knows what’s going on.”
Broussard said he had no clue what Friday’s news conference was going to address beforehand, and he still isn’t really sure what the schools will have an opportunity to vote on.
“The timing does seem to be a little bit strange,” Broussard said. “The more advanced notice we have on an important issue such as this it gives us some time to digest it, to discuss it. I always liked to go back and sit down with my coaches, let’s have a discussion because naturally everybody’s going to have a difference of opinions anytime you have something that there’s a possibility of a major change going on.
“You want to have some time to research it and think about it, so it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction.”
The fact that they do not have the agenda yet means they still don’t know if Cook’s metro/rural plan is still on the table. After Friday’s news, it stands as the only current way for there to continue to be a division in the state’s postseason.
If it is pulled, Boyer said it will send a strong message about where Bonine stands on the issue.
“If they pull that from the table, then there is nothing to vote on as far as splitting playoffs for football and any other sport,” Boyer said. “That would be interesting if they do that. Because if they leave it on the table, then somebody could add amendments to it and change something, go back to trying to split the sports again.”
Cook’s proposal was merely meant to be a pilot program, a one-year trial run. It might now turn into something the pro-split side latches on to as a way of maintaining a split playoffs if it remains on the table.
“I think one thing this might do is it might make the metro/rural plan a little more palatable for people who were previously for the split,” Hutson said. “Now they might be more in favor of the metro/rural, because it’s an alternative to the way things were before.”
There are only two things that people seemed to be certain about regarding Friday’s news.
First: Next week’s area meetings, with the Lafayette meeting scheduled for Wednesday, should be appointment viewing.
“I found out about lunch time (Friday) and I sent a couple texts out to coaches, about the only thing everybody was saying is it’s going to be a really interesting meeting,” Hutson said.
Second: Nobody really knows anything for certain, except for the fact that things almost certainly aren’t going to be like they have been for the past few years.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” Cook said. “I guess the one thing we do know now is that we won’t have a split playoff next year as select/non-select.
“I was never in favor of that to begin with. I would’ve been fine if we stayed the way that it was.”