Bishops: Haven't 'closed door' on LHSAA, looking at options after select/nonselect schools championships vote _lowres

 

Update: 12:45 p.m. Thursday:

The Advocate obtained a copy of the following statement sent to the state’s parochial schools.

Bishop’s Statement on LHSAA June 9, 2016

"The Bishops of Louisiana have approved the formation of a task force to continue looking into all options when it comes to the future of Catholic high school athletics. The task force will continue to meet in the coming months. By no means does this mean the Catholic schools of Louisiana have closed the door on LHSAA membership, nor has there been a commitment to any one future plan. The task force will be working for what is in the best interest of the student-athletes in Catholic schools throughout the state."

Original story:

Only one vote was needed at the LHSAA’s special-called meeting and it made two things abundantly clear.

First, there continues to be no division when it comes to the opinion of principals at the majority of member schools.

Second, the LHSAA’s expanded split, which calls for 12 championships in boys/girls basketball, softball and baseball, is on for 2016-17.

A total of 56.5 percent of the 306 voters on hand rejected four other options and went with “none of these” Wednesday, reaffirming their January vote to expand the split.

“The turnout shows that people do care,” Many Principal Norman Booker said. “For it to happen on the first vote, I think that makes it clear. I’m convinced there’s a problem with the way things have been done in the past. There needs to be some direction away from that.

“Even if this is not perfect and it needs to be cleaned up, it can be. I’m more than willing to work with the executive committee, the school relations committee or however I need to. I think our first step now is get in touch with our sites and venues and make everything right with them.”

Wednesday’s meeting at the Crowne Plaza leaves the LHSAA with its schools split along select/nonselect lines for its championships in five sports: boys basketball, girls basketball, softball, baseball and football. The organization split its football championships in 2013, moving to five nonselect and four select titles.

Wednesday’s vote makes way for seven nonselect titles and five select titles in basketball, baseball and softball.

Four other options were up for a vote. Of those four, the School Relations Committee’s hybrid plan, which called for rural-metro divisions in Classes 3A, 2A and 1A and combined championships for all five sports in 5A/4A and B/C, got the most support, with 17.2 percent.

Mandeville Principal Bruce Bundy proposed to reunite schools in all classes, but multiplying the enrollment of select schools by 1.5. That proposal got 11.4 percent of the vote. Ruston Principal Ricky Durrett’s plan that also called for a 1.5 multiplier, united schools for all sports and added a 6A class; that plan got 10.7 percent.

Iowa Principal Mike Oakley’s plan reduced the total number of classes to five. It would create four nonselect and three select divisions for football; the other four sports would’ve had five nonselect and four select divisions. That vote got 3.2 percent.

LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said he is ready to move forward with the split as passed.

“I think, at this point, I can look at myself in the mirror and say (all the principals/voters) made a decision today knowing exactly what they were approving,” Bonine said. “I wasn’t sure that was the case in January. It’s in, and now the staff and myself will go about making it work.

“This is going to take some constitutional changes because our constitution calls for 32-team brackets and in some cases we won’t be able to fill 16. We’ll have one eight-team bracket. I’ve been given my marching orders and will move forward.”

The comments during the presentations and afterwardswere telling. Bundy called the current path of the LHSAA unhealthy, noting the possibility of legislative intervention, loss of sponsorships and increased costs that go along with expanding to include more champions. Durrett said the expanded split could put as many as 300 teams with losing records in the playoffs in the five split sports.

School Relations Committee Chairman Mike Boyer of Teurlings Catholic wondered why no one from the LHSAA/executive committee asked Booker to explain/offer solutions to issues in his split plan, including the fact that 10 or less schools will be left on some brackets. When Booker spoke to the group briefly he encouraged them not to be confused by the options and stick by the original vote.

“I thought there were good presentations from those who came in with plans,” Boyer said. “We needed to hear from (Booker) how we can make this work. For educational purposes, that would have been important.”

Bundy added, “I think it seems like we haven’t accomplished anything because we are right back where we were in January. This is actually the result I expected. I believe the membership has more knowledge than it had previously back in January.”

The vote reaffirmed the views of the LHSAA’s nonselect or traditional public schools, which make up the majority of the 396-school organization. It was the latest disappointment for its select schools, many of which are private schools.

New Orleans area football power John Curtis has always been among the schools cited by nonselect schools as a reason for the split. Curtis football coach/athletic director J.T. Curtis didn’t hide his feelings.

“I thought there were several excellent proposals that could have put together back as an organization,” Curtis said. “I think it is an absolute crime what they have done to the girls sports. To cheat those girls out of the opportunity to compete on a fair and equal basis in a competitive bracket that would be reasonable is the antithesis of the educational process. We have invited the state legislature to get involved again.”

The LHSAA revealed in a marketing report Monday that it will lose about $250,000 in sponsorships based on the downturn in the economy. With the split vote affirmed, speculation turns to LHSAA title sponsor, the AllState Sugar Bowl, which has an escape clause in its contract based on the expansion of the split. Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan declined comment on the future of the sponsorship late Wednesday.

Booker also talked about finding a way for schools to come together.

“I think we need to move forward as a group now and fix this,” Booker said. “I know the Catholic League may not to do that or be willing to work with the current situation. I hate that because I have some dear friends in New Orleans who are principals of those schools.

“I hope we can work together and make something good for everybody, even if that means amending what passed today.”

David Folse contributed to this report.