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LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine address the LHSAAÕs annual Lafayette Area meeting a the LITE Center on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Lafayette, La.

When the LHSAA executive committee unanimously approved a plan to move forward with football contact drills and its season, regardless of what coronavirus reopening phase Louisiana is in, the move was not a surprise.

Several other actions taken during the executive committee’s fall meeting Wednesday were major surprises.

Other top actions included:

  • Moving the start of its COVID-19-altered football season up one week to Oct. 1-3, instead of the original planned dates of Oct. 8-10 based on a sports medicine advisory opinion from Tulane’s Dr. Greg Stewart.

The change allows for an eight-game regular season and 32-team playoffs for nonselect schools with a season that concludes in late December, with titles games set for Dec. 26-28 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Football scrimmages are scheduled the final week of this month. Full contact practices begin Thursday.

  • Approval to bring the LHSAA’s select-school title games back into the LHSAA’s traditional championship events for 2020-21 because of COVID-19 concerns. In 2019-20, select football and basketball teams held standalone title games apart from the LHSAA events before the pandemic.
  • The committee also voted to delay the LHSAA’s next two-year classification process until February because of the storm to 179 of its 404 member schools by Hurricane Laura.

Classification decisions are normally made in the fall and based on fall enrollment figures. Committee members noted that fall enrollment figures for storm-damaged schools may not be accurate.

“They can start hitting tomorrow,” LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine said after the meeting, providing a key answer for football coaches.

“This is what our coaches and players have been working toward. We are excited about it.”

The quick vote to approve an agreement hashed out with legislators Friday, which allowed a move to full contact drills was expected and helped kick off the meeting.

An opinion issued by Attorney General Jeff Landry last week said the LHSAA would not face added liability by starting full-contact football practices and playing games in Phase 2, a key step in moving forward with the season.

The decision to move the season up one week to Oct. 1-3 came after a discussion with Stewart, who leads the LHSAA’s sports medicine advisory committee. Stewart said he normally advocates 21 days for football players to acclimate to heat and contact but changed his guidance to 10 to 14 days.

After factoring in LHSAA football players have been conditioning in shoulder pads and helmets for over a month while doing some light 7-on-7 work, Stewart updated his opinion.

“If they (players) have already gotten acclimated to the heat, we can go with 10 to 14 days of contact to acclimate soft tissue,” Stewart said.

The committee went into executive session after Stewart’s report. During that session, members came to a consensus and voted to move the start of the season up one week once the regular session of the meeting resumed.

Under the approved plan, schools will still play their Week 3 opponent on Oct. 1-3 as they were supposed to if the season had started Oct. 8-10. The move simply extends the playoffs for nonselect schools.

Committee member Ryan Gallagher of Brother Martin then took the floor and reported the LHSAA's select schools voted to accept Bonine’s invitation to return to the LHSAA's championship events for 2020-21 because the pandemic.

LHSAA president David Federico said any move to integrate select championships back into the LHSAA events would have to be voted on in January at the annual convention.

One item that was not resolved were plans for attendance at LHSAA events amid the pandemic. Bonine reiterated his desire to have 50% occupancy at games, but said talks with state officials on that number will continue,

“At Tiger Stadium, 25% is 25,000 fans,” Bonine said. “At our school sites, the numbers are different. We need students in our schools and fans at our games. This is something that is going to continue to evolve as we work with state officials. They set the numbers for capacity and attendance at events.”

In other business, it was announced that the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony postponed in April is rescheduled for Oct. 6 and will be held at the LHSAA building.

LHSAA assistant executive director Karen Hoyt said the Hall of Fame ceremony will be livestreamed because a large crowd will not be allowed.

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Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com