Round and round and round we go, where we stop … well, that is a good question.
As we enter Month 7 of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Louisiana, there are two things many of us can agree on.
The year 2020 needs to be over. Lord knows, we all have been over it for a while.
And we need to play high school football in Louisiana.
Parents, coaches and students want prep football now and not next month as the LHSAA planned. Watching other Southern states play last weekend, during what would have been the LHSAA’s preseason jamboree week, was frustrating.
So at 9 a.m. Friday, the House Education Committee hosts a meeting designed to clear the air regarding LHSAA sports in Room 5 at the State Capitol. It gives parents a chance to be heard and to ask multiple state leaders questions. Then, on Wednesday, the LHSAA executive committee will hold its annual fall meeting.
Any plausible connection between the two meetings depends on what happens next in two separate significant cycles.
Need an explanation? Well, here goes.
Earlier this summer, LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine, BESE chairman Sandy Holloway and Dr. Cade Brumley, the new state superintendent of education, and others met with the House Education Committee to discuss plans for school/sports in 2020-21.
The groups agreed to work together. The education groups relied on sports medicine guidance from the LHSAA, and then the LHSAA followed final guidelines education leaders settled on. That is Cycle No. 1 in this situation.
Cycle No. 2 is made up of lawmakers from different branches of government. Act 9 was passed in the last legislative session and signed into law in June. Some of the lawmakers who voted on Act 9 are now battling themselves in this cycle.
Act 9's original intent was to limit liability schools face from COVID-19. But it was amended to include COVID-19 reopening guidelines mentioned above, based on Louisiana’s phased reopening, and ultimately made returning to play much more difficult.
Those guidelines have since been amended twice by the education leaders, who passed applications back to the LHSAA. And yes, there are part of the law now. Could other amendments be added to get teams on the field? I assume that may be discussed Friday.
Bonine illustrated this situation best. Picture a two-lane road with the LHSAA and education leaders heading in the same direction in different lanes. Now make it a three-lane road with legislators, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Gov. John Bel Edwards, in the other lane. Everyone is going in the same direction, but not at the same speed or with the same objectives.
Some legislators side with Landry. They want LHSAA, a private organization, to bypass the law by getting parents/students to sign a “carefully crafted waiver.” The waiver would bypass Gov. Edwards’ executive orders on reopening phases and allow football players to begin contact and football games, something they can’t do in Phase 2, which will last through at least Sept. 11.
Signing a waiver to give away rights to sue for anything, including COVID-19, can be tricky. This situation is tricky for all involved. The LHSAA is a convenient scapegoat because of its own structure.
The LHSAA is a principals’ organization, meaning coaches, students and parents have no standing in its decisions, something that frustrates many people. Odd as it seems, the final decision in the LHSAA/education cycle would fall to school superintendents over the LHSAA.
While the LHSAA is legally a private organization, it serves a huge public interest that includes athletes and coaches. The LHSAA is not the villain here. Unless you choose to politicize things, it may be hard to find a true “villain” here.
Everybody wants football. Getting multiple groups with different objectives to make it happen is not easy. Ask colleges and the NCAA.
Louisiana’s declining COVID-19 numbers compared to those in other states that do not have COVID-19 phases likely will be cited. There are plenty of numbers to choose from. The fact that the LHSAA’s national governing body, the NFHS, cites no COVID-19 cases from football contact to date, is among the most significant.
Can any of this put LHSAA football teams on the field before October? We want that. But … there are other numbers to consider. Since the LHSAA season was pushed back a month, its football officials got added time to register.
So far, between 50 and 60% of last year’s total of more than 1,200 officials have registered. Staggering games over multiple days is not new in most metro areas. It might have to be done statewide.
#letthemplay is a rallying cry I support. But it will take a team effort like one we have never had to do it.