Legislative bill may be the LHSAA only salvation
By my own conviction, I have always opposed the Louisiana Legislature butting into the business of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
Most often it was because some bumpkin senator or representative put forth a cockamamie bill to call attention to himself or to appease a disgruntled constituent.
But if River Ridge Rep. Kirk Talbot wants to be the white knight that saves the LHSAA from itself, I say, “Ride on, brother.”
Already, the Republican legislator pushed a bill to save the LHSAA through the House Education Committee (a 7-5 vote), with debate coming on the House floor.
As written and amended, HB 863 states: “A public school or nonpublic school approved by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that receives state funds shall not be a member of any interscholastic extracurricular and co-curricular athletic association or organization that subdivides schools into select admission and non-select admission schools for athletic playoff competitions and in doing so, discriminates among schools on the basis of gender, race and religion.”
It is so far the strongest response to the LHSAA principals (primarily public school heads) voting in January to hold separate playoffs for public and non-public schools in virtually all sports, beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
Why am I for a bill that would effectively disband the LHSAA as we know it? Because it tells public school principals that they have gone too far in circumventing the spirit of an association that has amicably settled its differences for 96 years.
What’s the alternative?
If this bill is blocked on the way to final passage, the groundwork has already been laid for non-public schools to form a new association. Some repercussions have surfaced, with many Catholic and private schools refusing to schedule athletic contests against public schools (outside their districts) whose principals voted for a split of all sports.
HB 863 is up for debate next week. It must get past the House, Senate Education Committee and full Senate to become law.
The main hurdle will be the House, which Talbot will have to convince to pass a bill that affects so many schools and athletes.
Difficult decisions ahead
LHSAA president Vic Bonnaffee is in an uncomfortable position if non-public schools decide to go their own way. He is not only the LHSAA executive committee’s top officer but also the principal of Central Catholic High School in Morgan City.
He will have a tough decision to make. If Central Catholic remains in the LHSAA, its future will be at the whim of a large bloc of public school principals more than ever.
Schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans have an equally tough call to make if this new “athletic cooperative” is formed. Do they join or remain minor partners among principals who would gladly blow them a kiss goodbye?
At this time, the principals are not allowed to speak about the confidential conversations they have held with the archdiocese. But the consensus is that they would want to join their Catholic and private school brothers and sisters in the new association if HB 863 fails.
Certainly, there are similar conversations among Catholic schools in dioceses throughout the state.
60 schools needed
Designed and written by Paul Rainwater, former chief of staff to Gov. Bobby Jindal, the proposed athletic cooperative would need a minimum of 60 signees willing to pay a one-time only membership fee of $15,000.
Rainwater, who volunteered to serve as the organization’s executive director, said he is negotiating with LSU to provide the venues for football, volleyball, baseball and softball playoffs.
I don’t see LSU as a long-term commitment because of potential scheduling conflicts with the Southeastern Conference. This has been a problem in the past.
But Rainwater has written the articles for the possible incorporation of the Louisiana High School Sports Cooperative.
The co-op would be run by an Advisory Oversight (AO) Committee made up of representatives from Catholic schools, non-Catholic private schools, private charter schools, lab schools and public charter schools. The representative may be a principal or athletic director.
Rainwater does not want to be part of day-to-day operations.
This committee will be charged with establishing the agenda for general membership meetings and handling grievances and eligibility questions that arise.
Bonine not twiddling thumbs
While the LHSAA may be a bystander at this point, executive director Eddie Bonine is making contingency plans for the remains of the association based on the outcome of what the Legislature decides.
He tried to avoid this in January by attempting to convince the principals to reject playoffs in all sports, not only because it is unfair to the schools in the minority, but it is costly and a logistical headache to the association in terms of acquiring additional venues and paying more officials.
But now that separate playoffs are the law of the land, Bonine is setting up multiple playoff brackets, not knowing if the LHSAA will have a full complement of schools.
Having passed its first test by a scant 7-5 margin may signal that HB 863 is destined for extinction in the full House. I’ve seen this before. But let’s hope not.