LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine initially sat back in the chair behind his desk as he pondered the questions. Several times, he pulled out his phone or reached for a computer to check numbers or documents.
There’s no shortage of questions or speculation about the future of the organization nearly two months after member principals voted to expand the select/nonselect playoff split to include basketball, baseball and softball. Here are Bonine’s answers to some notable questions:
What is your role as the legislature and others tackle the LHSAA and its vote to extend the split?
“I don’t recall if I said this to the legislators, but I’m trying to protect the shield. We’ve got 97 years in the LHSAA and I’m trying to make sure we make it to the 100th year. Whether it was with Muddy Waters, Frank Spruiell, Tommy (Henry), Kenny (Henderson) or myself there’s a tradition. I’m trying to uphold that, but we’re split at the seams.”
How are you preparing for the expanded split playoffs?
“First, I must deal with the facts as I know them now. We (LHSAA member principals) have approved dividing championships in the postseason for more sports. We know we have to do that. We don’t know if we have to account for schools that leave the association or any legislation that would pass.
“So we’ve done a mock up of what the brackets would look like for football and basketball using this year’s results. We’ll do the same for baseball and softball. It’s important for everybody to see what that’s going to look like.”
What about planning for a possible exodus of schools to a new association?
“I also am preparing an operations budget minus 125 schools. That’s a round number that includes anybody who is considered a select school. And then you factor in 10 percent one way or another. Included in that list are 80-plus private schools, a group that has 49 Catholic schools. It includes the charter schools.
“That would be taking a third of our association out. Let’s just say for example, if 150 schools choose to leave. That would leave us with 240 schools. It’s a viable association still. Can you afford to play championships in the larger venues? Probably not. It changes the number of employees you have.”
What are your thoughts on possible legislative
intervention after watching Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, get his HB 863 through the House Education Committee by a 7-5 margin?
“It (Talbot’s bill) came out of committee by a small margin, which is generally not favorable for the legislator. I’ve been told that historically the burial ground for a lot of bills involving the LHSAA is the house floor. So we’ll have to wait and see.
“But what I did get out of it through conversations with numerous people on the committee, most notably Rep. Gene Reynolds (former Minden High coach), is that he was pleased that we, meaning the LHSAA executive committee, would be meeting again next month (April 14). In so many words he said ‘Fix this. … We don’t want to be involved in your stuff.’ What does ‘fix’ mean?
“They say they don’t want to get in our business because we’re a private group, but they already have done that by passing arbitration for our eligibility rulings (in 2014). It wasn’t supposed to cost the LHSAA anything and instead it has cost us thousands of dollars. The only cases have involved wealthy schools, not students without money. It’s a tough situation to be in.”
One possible remedy for the split would be for the LHSAA executive committee to override the January vote at its April 14 meeting? Do you see that happening? What about a special-called meeting of the membership?
“I won’t call for it the committee to do that. It will have to be the committee’s decision if that happens. As for a special meeting or anything else, we’ll have to see. What happens with the legislation already there and others things submitted by the April 15 deadline remains to be seen.”
Rep. Talbot’s bill would prevent schools that receive public money from belong to an athletic organization that divides its playoffs along select/nonselect guidelines. What is the breakdown financially in terms of LHSAA membership fees?
“We have 304 schools listed as public schools. That includes U-High, Southern Lab and the charter schools. Now there is no guarantee that any of these schools used public money to pay membership dues. The total revenue is around $210,000.”
Note other totals: Class 5A has 54 public schools who pay $1,050 membership fee annually for a total $56,000; In 4A, there are 53 public schools who pay a $900 and that’s $47,700.
More totals: 3A, 57 schools, $750 fee, $42,750 total; .2A 46 schools, $600 fee, $27,600 total; 1A, 35 schools, $450 fee, $15,750 total; Class B, 31 schools, $375 fee, $11,625 total; and Class C, 28 schools, $300 fee, $8,400 total.
Is there a balancing act for you currently when it comes to select and nonselect schools?
“That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t speak at the (House Education) committee until I was called on to do so by Rep. Reynolds. The principals have spoken on one side with the vote to split. Now the coaches and principals on the other side are speaking out.
“You’ve got roughly 6 out of 10 who voted for it and 4 of 10 who didn’t. It’s not supposed to be about choosing sides. But yet there are sides.”
You came from Nevada where the state government oversees high school athletics. Would you welcome that possibility in Louisiana?
“No, I don’t welcome any type of governmental control. But I’ve worked under both systems. They both have an edge that cuts two ways. I’m in this job for the student-athletes of Louisiana.
In Nevada our rules and regulations were challenged by an attorney, who later became a state senator and then a U.S. Senator. I’ve been down that road as a board member. The attorney thought our rules were arbitrary or capricious.
“In elected oversight groups the negative argument is that they’ll make decisions based on what will help them remain in office. If you have principals making the decisions, they may be focused on what happens in their buildings only. They have to live in that community and shop in stores with people there. That I understand because my first principal (job) in Nevada was in a town of 5,000, and I chose to live there. Again, either way there are potential issues.
“When I got here last year and got my feet on the ground and get my feet wet, I was surprised to find out a lot of these decisions could be made by 50 percent of the vote. I thought ‘Wow, that could change the dynamic of things quickly.’ We (LHSAA) would have needed 206 votes for would have been a two-thirds vote. Where we are today might not have passed because the total was 182.
“But that is speculation because those in favor of the split would have worked to get those other votes. As it stands now, the select schools can’t get a two-thirds vote to change the constitution to make it tougher to make changes. So there’s another impasse.”