LAFAYETTE — Roughly 130 representatives from Acadiana area schools converged on the LITE center in Lafayette on Wednesday to gain some insight into what might transpire at the LHSAA’s annual convention next week in Baton Rouge.
Chief among the topics of conversation was the same as it has been in recent years: the split between select and nonselect schools that has been in place since 2013. Last week that topic gained a new air of uncertainty after the LHSAA’s legal counsel deemed that the system violated its constitution when it approved the split.
When pressed on where the organization currently stood, LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine said, “As of today, by legal opinion, we are not split.”
The LHSAA’s convention, set for Jan. 27-29, is where this and other issues will be addressed.
It wasn’t necessarily the split itself that drew the largest reaction from what was a mostly quiet and attentive crowd, but rather how that split might be altered moving forward.
Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook devised a plan to split the football playoffs, not by select and nonselect status like the past three years, but by organizing the schools into rural and metro classifications. The proposal was intended to be used as a pilot program to be re-evaluated next year.
By Cook’s count, 55 percent of the schools that reached the state championship from the start of the Superdome era in 1981 to 1999 came from rural areas. That number has dipped to 38 percent since the turn of the century.
“It wasn’t private and public so much,” Cook said. “The separation was becoming more urban and rural.”
Cook came up with the bones of the plan then handed it over to the LHSAA to develop it into a proposal. When that proposal was revealed to the representatives in attendance Wednesday, it lacked some of the elements of Cook’s original idea and most balked at its lack of feasibility.
“I think the biggest problem was the proposal they came up with for rural and metro,” Breaux Bridge coach Paul Broussard said. “I think coach Cook and his staff had a pretty good plan. The way they proposed the plan, I don’t think it has any chance of passing. Not the way they did it.”
Cook said he used a “common sense approach” backed by his four decades of coaching in the state. The LHSAA’s version of the proposal aimed instead to mathematically identify which schools were deemed rural and which were metro based on a three-part rubric.
By taking the formulaic approach, some powerhouse programs were in the same classification of schools such as Ridgewood Preparatory School, which has a enrollment of 93 students.
The dominant opinion in Wednesday’s meeting was that proposal could create unsafe conditions for student athletes.
“The 93 students at Ridgewood Prep cannot play Parkview Baptist,” Teurlings Catholic principal Mike Boyer said. “That kind of protects them.”
Under Cook’s plan, there was what he called an “Iron Man” classification that took the 30 or 40 smallest schools, regardless of metro or rural status, and put them in the same classification. The name “Iron Man” comes from small school players needing to play both ways.
“The biggest disappointment I have is that I thought coach Cook at Notre Dame had a very good proposal with the metro/rural thing that had a legitimate chance of passing,” Catholic-New Iberia coach Brent Indest said. “I just think the LHSAA took it and reworked it into a deal where it’s not going to pass. It hurts the really small schools.
“I think the concept of metro/rural is very good. I just think they took a pretty good idea, and they kind of messed it up.”
That was one of few periods with a frequent back-and-forth exchange, though. While there was a sense ahead of time that the meeting could get heated, most of the attendees spent their roughly three hours quietly listening and taking the message in.
“I know the area coaches here. They’re going to sit and listen and just absorb everything,” Broussard said. “I won’t say I’m surprised, but I’m glad it went well. People had a few opinions, but for the most part it was a good meeting.”
The standard reaction among those who attended seemed to be that they were satisfied with Bonine’s explanation for how the organization reached the decision last week to rule the 2013 split between select and nonselect schools unconstitutional.
That information was released Friday in a news conference, the timing of which was explained by Bonine in his opening remarks as an overall failure to communicate.
“The transparency that he revealed, he’s the guy in charge, he admitted to kind of making some decisions and I think he explained the process,” STM Athletic Director Kim Broussard said. “That helped me out a lot from the standpoint of understanding the process of what happened since December up until this point right now.
“That was good, it gave us some clarity and some education. That was a good start to the presentation on his part.”
There was still one question that was bugging Boyer at the end of the meeting concerning the unconstitutionality of the split released last week, though.
“Is it an opinion, or is it action?” Boyer said. “We need to know where to go from here in processing the other opinions.”