Sports are used as a metaphor for war and life in numerous essays.
Regardless of what happens this week, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association won’t be fashioning the latest metaphor.
Member principals meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge to decide what the future of the 96-year-old LHSAA may be, ever mindful of its select/nonselect school factions and their rift.
The special-called meeting gives principals the chance to vote on a possible alternative to an expanded playoff split approved in January to include boys/girls basketball, baseball and softball.
It’s a real split decision that some, including Executive Director Eddie Bonine, see as a definitive means to chart the future of the LHSAA.
“At this point, it has nothing to do with Eddie,” Bonine said. “It’s how many times are we going to vote for this. … We want the split.
“Here’s my thing … OK, we’ll move forward. But when we do, everybody needs to know what the variables are.”
In a typical sports metaphor, bullets take the form of hard hits or a laser-sharp curveball that makes an opponent buckle at the knees. The ammunition for Bonine, a former pitcher, is a stack of staff-compiled data and mock brackets that simulate what each of the plans member principals will get the chance to vote on simultaneously will look like.
There are no guarantees: The meeting must attract 99 principals or their pre-approved proxies — one fourth of the 396-school membership — for a vote to be taken.
“The first thing you have to get is a quorum,” LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic said. “You had 186 vote for the split in January and 122 vote against it. Based on the number of votes against it, you’d figure there would be a quorum. But you can’t assume that.”
If member schools have learned anything over the past five years, it’s that assumptions can lead to a long and winding road of proposals, conflicts, triumphs for some and disappointments for others.
Addition by division
The LHSAA has faced proposals to split its playoffs along nonselect (traditional public schools) and select (private, some charter, magnet and laboratory schools) lines each year since 2011.
Charges of recruiting by private schools and more recently, charter and magnet schools, escalated to new heights when private schools won four of five football titles in 2012.
Six weeks later, principals voted to split its signature sport, football, ultimately ending up with nine championships — five nonselect and four select.
A vote to expand the split to other sports was delayed in 2015 after Bonine, the former executive director for high school athletics in Nevada, was hired.
Bonine asked for, and was granted, a year to find potential solutions to reunite schools, which turned out to be a period of indoctrination.
It ended with the vote to split four more sports, expanding the number of championships in those sports from seven to 12. A plan Bonine and LHSCA Director Terence Williams championed would have separated schools based on their rural and metro status. It never gained enough serious support.
“In retrospect, when I stood in front of those cameras after the January meeting and they asked me ‘Mr. Bonine were you surprised; were you shocked? Did you miscalculate?’ I said ‘I grossly miscalculated,’ ’’ Bonine recalled. “And I miscalculated because I had many individuals telling me this was the direction we want to go.
“And this is what we were going to try and do.
“In my evaluation (from the LHSAA executive committee) it stated that ‘I need to strive to understand the culture, tradition and history of the LHSAA and the state of Louisiana.’ So maybe that means now I understand the rules of engagement with specific items like this.”
Four plans, five choices
The school relations committee’s hybrid plan was introduced in April and was the original impetus for the special-called meeting. Three other plans were submitted by separate authors in May. The option to reject all four also looms as a choice.
The hybrid plan brings Classes 5A and 4A back together for football and combines nonfootball Classes B-C. The rural-metro element was applied to 3A, 2A and 1A, calling for two titles in each of those classes.
Current or former LHSAA executive committee members had a hand in other plans submitted. Mandeville Principal Bruce Bundy’s proposal would reunite schools in all sports, with the caveat being that the enrollment of select schools would be multiplied by 1.5 before they’re classified.
Ruston Principal Ricky Durrett’s plan also would unite schools and add an eighth basic class, 6A to the mix. Class 6A would include schools with the largest enrollments and schools playing above their classifications. It also would require enrollment for select schools to be multiplied by 1.5.
Mike Oakley of Iowa and Mitch Manuel of Vinton are offering a plan that calls for five basic LHSAA classes and combines B-C into the new 1A. Schools with 1A enrollment that play football would move to 2A.
The football playoffs would consist of four nonselect titles and three select titles. There would be five nonselect and four select titles in boys/girls basketball, baseball and softball.
Does it add up?
One complaint about the football playoff split was the numbers breakdown. The smaller number of select schools dictated that some schools from separate classes had to be combined.
Those low numbers led to playoff byes for many select schools and put winless schools on a smaller, nonselect 1A bracket and schools with losing records on other brackets.
The numbers for the new sports set to join the split are just as telling. Small numbers in some classes/divisions would mean partial brackets and cases where all teams in a division or class make the playoffs.
In girls basketball, there are 378 schools. Under the January plan from Many Principal Norman Booker, 290 qualify for the playoffs. That’s 77 percent.
For two select groups, Division I-Class 5A would have eight schools and Division V-1A would have seven.
In boys basketball, there are 376 schools and 298, or 80 percent, would qualify for the playoffs.
There are 342 softball schools; 256 would qualify. The select group has just seven Division I or Class 5A schools.
“If I’d have known a year ago we’d be sitting here discussing this today, then I would have had staff mock up all the stuff like we are now so all the principals would see what they’re voting on,” Bonine said.
“I’ve found with rules in our handbook and playoff structure that we’re sometimes quick to approve things, not knowing what the impact will be on everything else
“This is the situation I provided to the school relations committee,” Bonine said. “In my opinion, we need to come up with something that has some proportionality to it and is equitable and better.
“If I’m a coach and I don’t play for two weeks or even a week-and-a-half, depending on the sport, that’s an issue to consider.”
There are questions for the host championship or tournament sites, too. The added brackets likely will force the LHSAA to reduce the number of playoff games or expand playoffs to a second weekend, if the host sites can match the dates.
Sulphur, for example, could be asked to host two weekends each of softball and baseball, going for four straight weeks.
Threats of intervention by the Legislature to force LHSAA schools back together fell by the wayside as legislators got locked into battles over the state’s other issues.
The possible emergence of a sports cooperative that would give private schools, and likely some charter schools, an alternative to the LHSAA also looms. Could those possibilities alter the LHSAA’s course this week? Most say it’s not likely.
“Like it or not, based on the votes the past few years, the split appears to be here to stay,” said Tim Detillier, former Lutcher football coach and current school relations committee member.
“The challenge is to find a way to make it the most equitable.”