LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine says the majority of schools don't want a split association _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Incoming LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine holds up the 2014-15 School Year Calendar while speaking to the members.

LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine called a Friday morning news conference to drop a bombshell.

Bonine announced that the state’s governing body for high school sports did not follow its constitution when it approved split football championships in 2013, based on the opinion of new LHSAA attorney Mark Boyer.

The revelation came less than two weeks before the LHSAA’s annual convention, set for Jan. 27-29 at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge. What it means as the LHSAA moves forward remains in question.

Bonine, who took over the LHSAA’s top job in March, made the announcement based on a mandate to provide “transparency” for member schools.

“Mr. Bonine is a collaborator and throughout this process he has worked with the officers of the executive committee, the parliamentarian and our attorney,” said LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic. “I want to stress that he is the messenger in this situation. This is not something he created or sought out. We understand there are people who will not like this. Again, Mr. Bonine is the messenger.”

The constitutional issue was discovered when the constitution agenda for the convention was reviewed last week. That’s when a legal opinion was sought. Boyer also was present for Friday’s news conference at the LHSAA office.

The opinion states that the LHSAA did not follow its constitution while passing the split because it did not go through the executive committee for approval before the decisive vote. The decision likely returns the LHSAA to its traditional format of five classifications for football-playing schools and seven total classifications.

A plan that would divide schools into groups based on their metro or rural status also could come into play. Bonine was quick to point out that, despite the announcement, the agenda for the LHSAA convention is set and will not change.

Bonine asked for Boyer’s assistance when asked directly about whether the finding puts the LHSAA back into five classes for football. Bonine, Bonnaffee, LHSAA Vice President Mike Oakley of Iowa, Past President Todd Guice of Ouachita Parish and parliamentarian Brian LeJeune, the Superintendent of Jefferson Davis Schools, were part of the agenda review group that discovered the constitution conflict.

“The communication I received from Mark was that in this case he feels that we violated the constitution,” Bonine said. “And if that’s the case, the split then becomes null and void, and I believe we go back to where we were before the split.”

Added Boyer: “It appears that’s the way it should go. I believe the executive committee deserves a conversation on this. Our parliamentarian, who I believe is new to the process, needs a little bit more information about what transpired at the (2013 convention) meeting.

“We have to know exactly what transpired to make a determination. On the surface it appears that, if you have not followed the appropriate procedure in making any of change to our constitution, it would be out of order.”

Bonine, who teamed with LHSCA Director Terence Williams to formulate the plan, reportedly is pondering whether to stick with the new plan or propose an alternative. The metro-rural plan was approved by the executive committee last month and qualifies as a proposal that could be voted on and approved.

Member principals approved split football playoffs, dividing schools into separate divisions in 2013 during the tenure of former Executive Director Kenny Henderson. For the past three years, the LHSAA has crowned nine football champions — five for nonselect/traditional public schools and four for select schools, a group made up of private, magnet, laboratory and most charter schools.

After the split proposed by Winnfield Principal Jane Griffin was approved, its opponents in the private-school ranks questioned its constitutionality based on the fact that the constitution says the LHSAA should be divided into five classes for football.

The new revelation revolves around item 8.7.2, which states, “Divisions involving two or more classifications may be created by the Executive Committee to provide competition in certain sports. The Executive Committee shall place schools in districts on an annual basis, if necessary.”

Henderson sought and received an outside legal opinion, and member schools were told the constitution and other bylaws in the LHSAA handbook were separate entities that did not have to agree. That legal opinion did not address the constitution point Friday’s announcement is centered around.

Bonine also stressed the importance of proposals to approve pay raises for officials that were put into practice last fall. He stressed that if the LHSAA’s principals do not approve the pay raises, officials likely will go on strike immediately.