Restraint is not the norm in the State Capitol, but we hope that all involved decide it’s the wrong playing field for a battle over high school sports.
The House has on its calendar a bill aimed at forcing changes in high school football and other playoffs. The sponsor of House Bill 863 urged a delay.
Even the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, says the subject is one that the Legislature should approach only as a last resort, if the Louisiana High School Athletic Association is unable to agree on a solution to the debate now underway.
We agree, but is the House bill really necessary?
It passed the House Education Committee in a close vote, 7-5, after an acrimonious debate that is reflective of the passions aroused when legislators turn into super-umpires of the playing fields.
The Talbot bill would prohibit public and private schools that receive public funds from belonging to an athletic organization that splits its playoffs into separate divisions, like those used in Louisiana. The aim is for the state to return to its previous playoffs setup, which routinely pitted public and private schools against each other in high-profile championships.
Like Talbot, we hope that the LHSAA should police its own rules and avoid a sweeping legislative intrusion into high school sports.
Under current rules, high school football playoffs are divided between contests for traditional public schools and those for private schools as well as charters, which are public schools, magnet and laboratory schools.
The football changes took effect in 2013 and stemmed in part from longtime complaints that public schools were at a disadvantage because private schools can lure top-flight players from larger areas. Opponents said the overhaul watered down championships and detracts from the spirit of high school competition.
Probably both arguments are true. The current LHSAA compromise creates new categories of championships. Split playoffs for basketball, baseball and softball are set to take effect for the 2016-17 school year.
And the realities are that these compromises at LHSAA have generated debates centered on the petty self-interest of coaches and schools. The LHSAA role is critical in enforcing regulations against real abuses of rules on recruiting and eligibility. We believe these endless factious debates have undermined its credibility in the public mind.
Nor can we see a Legislature, already mired in the worst budget crisis in a generation, bringing much wisdom to the table about this issue.