After weeks of speculation about a novel coronavirus pandemic driven urge to make sweeping changes to its football playoff system for 2020, the LHSAA executive committee took the opposite approach.
During a quick-moving discussion, the committee voted to keep its Prep Classic football championship games in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from Dec. 26-28.
No changes were made to the LHSAA’s football playoff brackets/format or the start dates for select/nonselect football playoffs during the fall executive committee meeting held Tuesday at the LHSAA office.
“I thought it would go that way because I had talked to a few people on the committee,” LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine said. “But the key piece to the conversation for me was about when or if a COVID incident comes up in the playoffs, what would we do?
“We’re averaging 10 to 13 instances a week. It will happen. We needed to have a plan. And we decided to do what we are doing for volleyball. If cases or contact tracing prevents a team from playing, they are taken off the bracket and their opponent advances.”
The LHSAA board approved four games as the minimum number a team must play in order to advance to the playoffs.
The committee voted to play its Prep Classic at the Superdome on the recommendation of Bonine, despite concerns about possible COVID attendance limits in Orleans Parish.
There was some debate about the minimum number of games. The options of going with a three or five-game minimum also were discussed. Bonine opening statement that called the Superdome a destination for the Prep Classic was met with no opposition.
“You see it every time on the faces of the players and coaches when the teams come through those doors and are on the floor of the Superdome for the first time,” Bonine said. “I feel like we need to try and give the teams and players that experience this year, regardless of how many fans we can have.”
Bonine said constructive talks with Superdome staff left him with a positive feel for how the fans go through temperature check points and for the sanitization techniques at the facility.
He said 6,500 fans are now allowed for Saints games and that that could be expanded to as high as 15,000, depending on the COVID-19 case load in New Orleans in late December.
“At the end of the day, Louisiana is not leaving (COVID-19 reopening) Phase 3 any time soon,” Bonine said. “And if we can put 3,000 to 6,000 fans in the stands for these games, we’ll go with it.”
The committee rejected suggestions to extend the football playoffs into January or to pare down its brackets to a smaller number so that COVID playoff stoppages could be factored in.
“The decision was to provide an opportunity for as many teams as possible to be in the playoffs,” Bonine said. “By doing what we’re doing we are not changing anything in our constitution.”
One thing Bonine did not get from the committee was a decision on a final date to determine whether the LHSAA could host its annual convention at the Crowne Plaza in January if Louisiana has a serve COVID spike.
The executive committee worked on its convention agenda in executive session. The group also heard a presentation by the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association but took no action, instead asking for formal documentation.
In their pitch, the LHSBCA asked that coaches be allowed to seed playoff teams this season because of possible COVID-19 scheduling issues. They also sought an NCAA-tourney like bracket that puts all nonselect teams in the playoffs without adding playing dates to the season.
“Nothing this year is going to be perfect or something everyone agrees with,” Bonine said. “We do need to be consistent.”