LHSAA membership rejects split for now; new chief Eddie Bonine gets time to address issues _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine, left, speaks to the members.

Fire and Ice — the LHSAA version?

That’s one way to look at the two appearances LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine made on Culotta and The Prince morning show on ESPN 104.5.

Bonine, who took over the LHSAA’s top job in March, displayed his fiery side on Wednesday. The tone Thursday was more subdued as Bonine talked about officials giving him time to solve the impasse between the LHSAA and Louisiana High School Officials Association.

Comparing the LHSOA’s demands to those of LHSAA member schools who want select/nonselect split issues addressed, Bonine noted that the LHSAA principals voted in January to give him one year to find solutions. The LHSOA has rejected Bonine’s request to do the same for their issues.

So here we are just over a month away from the start of the 2015 fall seasons and there’s no guarantee officials will be in place.

Will the officials strike? I don’t know.

What I do know is this — both the LHSAA and LHSOA can count this as an epic fail if some kind of compromise or solution doesn’t happen soon.

Bonine’s blunt statements on Wednesday shocked some and definitely made for great sound bites and quotes. He’s frustrated and so are LHSOA officials who have also stated their case publicly, citing a lack of trust and respect after years of broken promises by the LHSAA.

One colleague/official I respect called Bonine’s statement about “being in this for the kids” an easy catch phrase. That may be true, but for me high school sports must be about the kids.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t empathize with high school officials. I certainly do. I’ve gone on the record numerous times saying officials need to be treated better. Yes, I think officials should get a raise and system for future raises should be set.

Bonine said Thursday saying he thinks officials should get raises and he wants to work to make that happen. He says there will be no broken promises on his watch.

Too bad it’s not that simple. The LHSAA has stated that its volleyball and basketball officials are among the lowest paid in the nation.

Football officials, according to Bonine’s research, are at or near the top nationally. But here’s the rub — many qualified officials opt to call youth leagues. Why? Because they can make more by calling multiple games without having to meet the LHSAA’s certification/testing requirements which are among the nation’s toughest.

What about a special-called meeting like there was in 2011 to raise basketball officials’ pay instead of waiting until January as mandated by the LHSAA bylaws? Or what about the LHSAA committee mandating the pay raises now?

Bonine feels confident he can go through the proper channels to get pay raises by January and says the LHSAA simply can’t mandate raises/spend money for schools. The LHSOA fears principals could vote in a raise now and rescind it in January.

The figure of between $400 and $500 for a crew of football officials that was discussed Thursday didn’t include travel and certification levels, which could bump the cost up past $700, according to Bonine.

A raise of $35 per game for schools in football wouldn’t be a problem for many schools, but for others it is. Some schools do a head count at each game to figure out whether they’ve made enough to cover the cost of officials, stadium rental, security, etc. It’s a bigger problem for many schools in other sports, including volleyball, basketball, soccer, wrestling, baseball and softball.

Bonine’s Wednesday rhetoric drummed up LHSAA support. Some have called to volunteer their services as officials. Bonine said several private schools called offering to “sponsor” other member schools that have trouble paying officials’ fees. Now there’s a select/nonselect olive branch few probably expected.

So it looks like the ball is now back in the LHSOA’s court and its executive board meets at noon Sunday in Baton Rouge.

Will Bonine’s other Wednesday revelations have an impact? He quoted the LHSOA’s bylaws which state that officials must abide by LHSAA rules, something the the LHSOA’s demand that schools sign contracts violates.

Bonine also noted that the LHSOA was never formally approved by the LHSAA’s executive committee as an affiliate/subgroup like the Louisiana High School Coaches Association or the Louisiana High School Athletic Directors Association.

The last one may be a sticky one for both groups. Yes, the LHSAA did form the LHSOA and LHSAA Assistant Executive Director Keith Alexander is listed as the group’s director on its articles of incorporation.

I’ve attended almost all LHSAA executive committee meetings since 2010 and do not recall the LHSOA being approved like the LHSCA and LHSADA were. With that said, does the LHSOA have the rights of those other groups have?

Can the LHSOA really represent the officials? Remember, the LHSAA is a private organization and not quasi-public as it was for many years.

It may take lawyers to sort those two items out. I’m no lawyer, but I will offer four words of advice.

Avoid that epic fail. The kids are counting on you.