There was yet another spiraling curve in the saga of the LHSAA and its split football championships.
Nearly three years after it was passed by a general assembly of member principals, the LHSAA executive committee retroactively approved the split with a majority vote Wednesday.
That vote clears the way for the membership to vote on a proposal by Many Principal Norman Booker that would expand the select/nonselect playoff split to include basketball, softball and baseball when the LHSAA’s annual convention concludes at the Crowne Plaza with another general assembly vote at 9 a.m. Friday.
A proposal by Mandeville Principal Bruce Bundy to go back to the five-class system is also up for a vote Friday.
So, too, is another proposal, which would split playoff teams into metro and rural divisions. That proposal was championed by LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine and LHSCA Director Terence Williams, and although they suggested Wednesday that it be pulled, it remains up for a Friday vote.
Also up for a vote is a school-relations committee proposal, tabled a year ago, that would classify only schools in 3A, 2A and 1A as select and nonselect for the playoffs.
The executive committee’s retroactive approval came as a surprise to some as a crowd of about 70 coaches and administrators came to the LHSAA office to monitor the meeting.
“I understand that we’re taking a beating on WWL, from the ESPN radio show in Baton Rouge and plenty of media,” LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic said. “What people not closely involved with this organization don’t understand is that it is a democratic process.
“The vote today was part of a democratic process, and the one on Friday will be also. Once (the 2013 split) was approved, everything else fell into place. You could see what was going to happen based on the wishes of those voting.”
The vote is the latest twist in a bizarre storyline that began nearly two weeks ago when Bonine held a press conference to announce that the LHSAA’s new attorney Mark Boyer, had issued a legal opinion which stated the 2013 split vote to divide schools based on select/nonselect status was unconstitutional since the proposal was note approved by the executive committee prior to the vote.
Would the LHSAA stay with its current format of five nonselect classes and four select divisions? Or would it revert to its original five-class system? Those were key questions.
But the backlash was immediate with advocates of the split, including its author, executive committee member Jane Griffin of Winnfield, crying foul and noting that a 2013 legal opinion deemed the split legal during area meetings held around the state last week.
Boyer explained his position, and parliamentarian Brian LeJeune also explained why the 2013 proposal — and a proposal by Booker to add other sports to the split in all classes — were unconstitutional. Booker also proposed a separate split for only Class 2A. That was also deemed unconstitutional.
At one point, LeJeune reminded the committee that as Superintendent of Jefferson Davis Parish, he has “no dog in the fight” and to make decisions carefully.
When asked if approving the split now — three years after the fact — was a way to possibly move forward, Boyer and LeJeune said yes. Pickering Principal Hub Jordan noted that a majority of more than 60 percent of principals had approved the split in 2013 and again separate divisions in 2014.
Bonine asked that the group delay all split proposals and come together in a month to find another possible solution. The committee was told that Bonine first discovered the constitutional conflicts while putting together the LHSAA’s alternative to the split, which proposes a divide between rural and metro schools.
But Airline Principal Jason Rowland said delaying a vote another year would likely erode the LHSAA’s credibility with some member schools.
The proposal to retroactively approve the current split football playoff system came from an unlikely source — Sophie B. Wright Principal Sharon Clark.
“I personally am not for the split and I didn’t vote for it,” Clark said afterward. “I didn’t know what to expect today. Even though I’m not for the split, I felt it was important that we recognize the majority that did vote for it. I don’t agree with everything that happens, but I do think teamwork on the committee is also important.”
During his comments, Booker said he would consider pulling down the split proposals, based on other dynamics, but also asked the committee to keep him from becoming a “scapegoat” as he had been in previous years.
Ruston Principal Ricky Durrett’s proposal, which would have added a 6A class and used a multiplier to classify select schools, was pulled.
“Now the important thing is making sure the principals who vote on Friday — I think there will be 360 — understand what’s at stake and the ramifications of what they’re voting on,” Bonnaffee said. “Tomorrow is an important part of that process. Again, the majority will rule.”