Debate on a bill aimed at forcing changes in high school football and other playoffs was delayed Thursday, and the sponsor said he hopes the issue is resolved without a new state law.
The time out was requested by officials of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, or LHSAA.
“I would really rather not run with the bill at all,” state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge said in an interview afterward. “I would hope that they would solve this thing and we wouldn’t have to take this route.”
Talbot’s measure, House Bill 863, cleared the House Education Committee last week 7-5.
It 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.
Talbot said he asked for more time after LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine sent a letter requesting that the issue first be discussed by the group’s executive committee.
That panel is set to meet on April 14 and Talbot said he plans to address members.
Bonine, in his letter dated March 29, quoted state Rep. Gene Reynolds’ earlier comment aimed at the LHSAA that “it would be a good idea for the LHSAA to meet and discuss this situation and fix it.”
Reynolds, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, reiterated his view after the House adjourned Thursday.
Bonine, who declined to take a stance on the bill in committee, said most schools and members of the executive committee are on spring break.
“We were caught off guard by the fact that it (HB863) would go to the House floor as quickly as it was supposed to,” he said.
“Now I can’t guarantee that any definitive decision will come from our meeting,” Bonine said. “That will be the committee’s decision.
“But it’s important for the committee to meet, discuss and understand the possible intended and unintended consequences this legislation could bring.”
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.
Split playoffs for basketball, baseball and softball are set to take effect for the 2016-17 school year.
Talbot said in an interview that, while he did not file a bill after football playoffs were divided, adding still more sports is too much.
“You look at girls’ softball on the select (private) side on 5A,” he said.
“It is six total teams in the entire 5A,” Talbot said.
“I think it is going to further promote teams with losing records going to the playoffs,” he added.
The controversy has also been fueled by rumblings of a new association being formed, this one dominated by private schools, as an alternative to the LHSAA.
“So now you will never have those teams play each other, not just in the playoffs,” Talbot said.
If nothing is changed, he said, he would favor that new group going up.
LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic backed the delay.
Bonnaffee also said he has asked for LHSAA attorney Mark Boyer to review the group’s constitution for a proper interpretation on the powers of the executive director, executive committee officers and executive committee members.
The changes were approved by a vote of principals statewide.
Any reversal would presumably require statewide approval.
“It’s also important for us to meet as a group to discuss this bill and everything that goes with it,” Bonnaffee said. “We need to do that in person and in a public forum.”
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