Sooner or later, the situation was going to come to a head.
There is a split now among Louisiana prep football-playing schools, per last week's 206-119 vote by principals at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Convention in Baton Rouge. The vote largely went along party lines.
Of the 389 member schools in the LHSAA, 267 (68.6%) are traditional public schools and 122 (31.3%) are considered select schools. In the vote late Friday, 325 (83.5%) voted with 206 schools for (63.4%) and 119 against (36.6%). Those principals who did not show up to vote for such an important piece of legislation better have a note from their mothers. It is hard to fathom not being present. Several New Orleans area schools (17) were not represented. Based on the nature of those schools, most, if not all would likely have voted against the proposal though that would not have changed the ultimate result.
While there are many issues still to be resolved before this becomes law next school year, this is not a new issue in Louisiana.
In 2004, principals voted to change the rule which allowed schools to play-up in classification to whichever class they wanted to play in. Clearly, this was aimed at John Curtis and Evangel, who were playing in and dominating 4A and 5A football, respectively.
At the time, Curtis was a 2A school in enrollment while Evangel was 1A. Both were relegated to their enrollment classes and they continued to dominate, as you might imagine.
Evangel eventually moved back up to 2A classification. Each year since, either John Curtis or Evangel has won the 2A state championship in football.
In 2011, Jesuit principal Mike Giambelluca tried to get the LHSAA to allow schools to play-up again but the proposal narrowly failed by six votes. The following year, Giambelluca was able to push through an initiative to allow schools to play-up one classification. Curtis and Evangel quickly jumped at it to play up to 3A.
Now, with the vote to split "select" and "non-select" schools, both would compete with powerful 4A and 5A schools in the same class for a state football championship.
Naturally, this has, in the words of The Carpenters, "only just begun."
Do not be surprised to see the Louisiana Legislature get involved in the process in an attempt to arrest the decision of school principals. Then, there is the potential for lawsuits to follow.
Should the legislation take effect, there is the possibility of private schools and other "select" schools considering a split from the LHSAA. In the interim, do not be surprised to see "select" schools surgically remove "non-select" schools from their schedules in various sports, given the public vote by traditional public school principals to choose not to compete for state championships with their brethren. There are already 12 schools that are not members of the LHSAA, competing in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS).
Then, there is the definition of a "select" school. Many are contesting and disputing just what defines "select." What we have deciphered is that "select" includes dual curriculum, magnet, charter and all private schools. That would include as many as 122 Louisiana schools as "select" schools and 267 as traditional public schools, according to sportsNOLA's Ron Brocato.
Here are some links to good reads on splits or split legislation that has passed in other states.
- Forbes.com on Georgia
- Denverpost.com on Colorado
- Public-Private War is a National Issue
- Lubbockonline.com on a Texas-sized debate
One of the problems in Louisiana, whether you support the new rule or not, is the number of schools and their respective locations.
There are 389 member schools in the LHSAA with 295 competing for football state championships.
By comparison, other states either with the "split" initiative in place or strongly considering implementing it are far different in population and number of schools than Louisiana.
The latest census has Louisiana at 4,574,836. Next door, Texas has 25,674,681 residents. Florida has 19,057,542. Pennsylvania is at 12,742,886, Ohio has 11,544,951 and Georgia is at 9,815,210. Only Colorado, at 5,116,796, compares to the Louisiana population.
With many more residents and students and many more schools, the other states can easily "split" to create to separate levels of football championships. Here is Rick Gaille's take on what the "split" means.
No Class B or C schools compete in football but all were allowed to cast votes on the football initiative. All girls schools are part of the membership as well. None play football. All were allowed to vote on the football initiative. Is that appropriate?
In an op-ed at sportsNOLA.com, long-time high school coach Dennis Lorio proposes matching the champions of the select and non-select schools against each other in a "Super Bowl" contest, of sorts, after doing the math and coming up with five classes for football competition in both "select" and "non-select" categories.
Lorio came up with the concept back in 1996. That is how long, it not longer, the debate and consideration of splitting public and private schools in football has gone on.
Now, several former "traditional" public schools find themselves on the other side of the fence.
In football, Byrd, Edna Karr and Neville certainly fill that bill. All three are outstanding football programs that have won state championships. While all three may have possessed some disdain for private schools previously, all three are now lumped in with the private schools, cast aside to compete for just two titles.
Then, you must consider this. Several current "non-select" schools may very well become "select" schools in the very near future as many school boards and schools gravitate toward the "magnet" or "charter" identification and open enrollment. Think their perspective on what they just voted on will change if and when that change occurs?
For me, open enrollment for public schools is a good thing. It will reward those who perform well, educate well and have good environments for our young people to learn, advance and succeed. Those which do not perform would clearly suffer with some likely disappearing.
It is not equitable to have just two "select" school football championships. In fact, it is patently unfair to have 3-A schools competing with 5-A schools for football titles. For that matter, 1-A schools should not have to battle 2-A enrollment schools for championships. The same is true with 4-A schools battling 5-A schools.
Let me pose a simple question. If John Curtis and Evangel were not part of the LHSAA, would we have arrived at the conclusion principals reached last Friday?
We should be teaching our young people to strive for excellence, to achieve their maximum potential, to win in every aspect possible. No one should have to apologize for winning.
Moving forward, if somehow the twain shall meet and schools come back together as one, create an independent enforcement body, consisting of investigators and those with legal backgrounds. Have more stringent check and balance mechanisms in place and more bite in punishment tactics.
Recently, West Monroe was punished with regard to the addition of Cameron Robinson from Ouachita Parish to their football program. Don Shows received a 2-game suspension. In baseball, Zachary and Teurlings Catholic were banned from the state baseball playoffs for an altercation on the field. Both had their playoff bans lifted, following appeals.
While I am not saying or taking any position that any of those schools deserved stiffer punishment or leniency, the ruling point to the lack of bite that currently exist in disciplinary rulings doled out by the LHSAA.
Curtis and Evangel have been competing in prep football for many years--Curtis since 1969 and Evangel since 1990. The Patriots have won 25 state championships while Evangel has captured 13 state championships. Neither has received any serious penalties during that time despite many complaints opponents have lodged against them, publicly or privately (no pun intended).
Again, I am not saying that both have been clean or dirty, just stating the facts regarding accusations and resulting disciplinary action.
Another aspect of the recent decision is this. If you took a private poll, you would discover that several head football coaches and athletic directors of schools voting "for" a split did not share the enthusiasm or position of their principals. For obvious reasons, they must remain silent.
The LHSAA has been in existence since 1920. For the first time ever, there will not be one champion crowed in the state in the respective football classes. I completely respect people on both sides of the issue and understand the legitimate concerns about an playing field that is not level.
The devil is in the details.
How will power points be determined under the new system? Will the two "select" championship concept be implemented or amended? After all, you subtract 122 schools from competing in "non-select" and you still award trophies to five class champions? That begs the question that many have posed--is this all about trophies for some who initiated the proposal?
That said, the playing field is considerably more level in football than it is in some Club and Olympic sports. Do traditional public schools fare well, or have much of a chance in swimming, golf, tennis, soccer and wrestling? The same is true of lacrosse, which is catching on like crazy.
Is the move good or bad for our state? That is our current poll question here at sportsNOLA.com. All opinions are welcome. Again, I completely respect all and will continue to support and provide the best coverage possible of all LHSAA schools, championing the cause of prep football and prep sports in general.
Based on the makeup of our state, the population base and our quest to send a message to others that we are open for business, progressing in education and business and have a spirit of fellowship and cooperation, the latest move is a setback. Rather than follow the trend of others, make a statement that we are different, that we can work together and do so with more stringent rules and discipline in the spirit of true competition.
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