The next vote may do away with select, non-select
Eddie Bonine thinks it's going to happen, and he's going to set the stage for reuniting private, charter and public schools’ football programs into a common playoff format.
The executive director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association just needs to program the minds and hearts of 396 principals to ratify the urban/rural play-off proposal at the LHSAA’s annual convention on Jan. 29.
Then here’s what will happen: The districts, the majority of which include both public and non-public schools, will remain the same. The Catholic League would remain all-Catholic.
At the end of the regular season, the schools will be subdivided into “metropolitan” and “non-metropolitan” groupings, according to their size and location, and hold separate playoffs.
There will be three divisions (or classes) each for the urban and rural schools, seeded according to their power ratings.
The difference between this proposal and the sham of separate playoffs the principals perpetrated on the public two years ago is that (1) public and private schools will once again compete against each other for a state championship; and (2) there will be six state championship football games played over two days rather than nine played over two weeks.
A pilot program
The brainchild of Notre Dame athletic director and head football coach Lewis Cook, the original proposal called for separate playoffs for urban and rural schools in all sports.
But the LHSAA’s executive committee tweaked it to be regarded as a pilot program for one year “to see if it really works.”
But where do you draw the line between urban and rural? There are three areas of Louisiana considered urban centers under this proposal: New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
A smaller city, like Lafayette, will be considered an urban “cluster” and will include schools in New Iberia, Opelousas and nearby burgs to compete in the urban play- offs.
The question is, is this a viable alternative to the current playoff system as a stop-gap measure that could soon usher in a common championship playoff format again?
“Eight out of 10 people told me they want a true championship in football. They want the best to play the best,” Bonine said. “And that comes from the football coaches. We split for the wrong reasons, and it was the worst thing we could have done.”
That split was the result of a group of public school principals who convinced a majority of their peers to play for championship honors among themselves and let the non-publics have their own playoffs.
While the public schools were able to fill 32-team playoff brackets, the higher-ranked teams in the smaller private, Catholic and charter schools had first-round byes and just four rounds of playoffs.
How will Bonine change this?
“When I walk into the (meeting) room, I can’t be the thermometer. I have to be the thermostat,” he said. “I’m not going to work to the temperature of that room. I’m going to set the temperature. I think that needs to be done and that’s the kind of leadership role I’m taking.”
I haven’t heard such decisive words from the mouth of the head of the LHSAA since former commissioner Tommy Henry retired.
“My straw poll tells me that 7 1/2 to 8 out of 10 coaches are in favor of having a common playoff. They get it. It’s a matter of educating the principals,” Bonine said.
“We have had more than 150 new principals over the past two years in 396 schools. I don’t know how many of them know if footballs have feathers or air in them.
“Educating the principals is a continuous process.”
And Bonine is about to ring the school bell.