“Why ‘the split’ never has and never will meet its objectives! What is the Solution!”
By: Todd Black
In 2013, Jane Griffin, Principal of Winnfield High School, brought a proposal to the LHSAA Annual Convention that would significantly change the landscape of high school football. The proposal was designed to split the playoffs between public and private schools. In 2016, Norman Booker, Principal of Many High School, used the same proposal to split girls & boys basketball, baseball, and softball. By now, it should be well known these proposals both broke the LHSAA’s Constitution and here we are today.
Also, in 2013, an outside legal opinion was asked for and received by the LHSAA; it stated the football split proposal broke the Constitution. The LHSAA was also notified by letter (email), from a member school, the proposal violated the bylaws. Again, in 2016, the LHSAA’s legal team notified the Executive Committee and the membership this proposal was out of order. The 2016 notice was given a few weeks prior to the 2016 Annual Convention; this was before Mr. Booker’s proposal had an opportunity to be voted on. However, the notice expectedly fell on deaf ears, which lead to the vote which expanded the split to include the other sports.
The purpose behind splitting the Association was that private schools recruit. Griffin and her adversaries swore the proposal would achieve these objectives:
1) Create competitive balance.
2) Create a level playing field.
3) Make things fair and equitable.
After 8 years of the football split being in place, have these objectives been met? What do we know now, we did not know (or overlooked) in 2013? For starters, a level playing field never will exist in athletics. It sounds great, but it will never happen. For instance, I looked at the margin of victory in Rounds 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in all Classes and Divisions for both the boys and girls basketball playoffs. I compared the margin of victory for each round of the playoffs in years 2013-16 and compared them to post-split years 2017-20. *Before I move forward, so we are on the same page, there are 12 Classes and Divisions in both boys and girls playoffs for a total of 24 brackets. Then there are 5 rounds in a majority of the brackets with the exceptions being in the select divisions, so these total close to 120 playoff rounds of basketball I reviewed.* The margin of victory increased in 68% of the playoff brackets by round. In football, the margin of victory increased to over 50% of playoff brackets by round. Football’s comparator was the years of 2005-2012 vs 2013-2020.
For now, let us ignore those facts and take a look at how public schools acquire their enrollment. Most laymen think all public schools are the same, therefore by putting all public schools together for the playoffs is a clean ‘apples to apples’ comparison. This could not be further from the truth. Our first stop takes us to Sabine Parish. Many HS, Class 2A, is the only football playing school in the parish. Therefore, the Local Education Agency (LEA usually refers to a district’s local school board) allows student-athletes outside of Many’s attendance zone to attend Many to play football. In other words, anyone in Sabine Parish who wants to play football can attend Many. Therefore, Many’s attendance zone for football is that of a 5A school (1299 students). But there are plenty of public schools who take advantage of federal mandates and LEA overrides to jump school zones. The LEA also allows kids to cross attendance zones within the same district if another school is offering a class your current school is not offering. And there is more; you have parishes that consider themselves ‘open enrollment.’ One of those parishes is Lafayette Parish, where 5 of the 6 schools have ‘themed’ academies.
In 2018, Kevin Foote of The Daily Advertiser, wrote an awesome series of articles discussing public school recruiting in the Acadiana area. The fact students jump parish lines to go to school, the fact student-athletes are playing outside their traditional attendance zones, and the fact all of the above is acknowledged by coaches, parish athletic-directors and superintendents makes me wonder if the voting LHSAA membership has any clue what goes on outside their office. In Foote’s article, one coach is quoted as saying ‘public schools are as bad as private schools;’ another coach says, ‘if kids today are not happy at their current school, they will find a way to attend another one. It’s not like it used to be.’
Now to the other side of the aisle. I have said since day one, the only advantage private schools have is an infinite attendance zone. The purpose as explained to me is:
“if you have a good public school and a good or even great private school, with all things being equal, what school would you chose? Ninety percent would make the choice of a public school; therefore, private schools had to go outside their attendance zones to survive.”
No one could have guessed 100 years ago that Louisiana would be near the bottom in public education. That distinction is why the highest private school enrollments are found in parishes with the worst public school education. Foote’s article gets into more specifics noting ‘at the beginning of 2018 school year, Lafayette Parish enrolled 28% of their students ‘out of zone.” The magic number in the LHSAA handbook to be designated a ‘select’ school is 25%. Are all of the 28% athletes? The way the handbook reads, whether the 25% are all athletes or none are athletes, it does not matter.
Looking at this year’s football state championships, four of the five public schools who won, accept kids from outside their attendance zone; Oak Grove is the only one I am unsure about. But like private schools, every scenario I have mentioned are all within the rules of the LHSAA. My point is you simply cannot label a school ‘select’ just because they are a private school. To be honest, this issue is not between public and private schools; the issue is between the ones who use a traditional attendance zone and those who do not.
Even with that said, since 2013 I have brought up the fact that both Principals MUST sign off on student who transfers. This is also brought up by a former superintendent in the Acadiana area. The ‘sign-off’ by Principals are a part of the ‘checks and balances’ the LHSAA provides to help keep recruiting in check. So, when Principals claim ‘the LHSAA is a Principal’s organization;’ fine, then do your job. I think a huge disconnect with some principals is they feel their job is only to ‘vote.’ That is not the case. For example, it is upon the Principal the responsibility of making sure the coaches and faculty know the LHSAA rules. As we have mentioned, the #1 issue that created the split was private schools were accused of recruiting public school players.
To try and verify this thought, the LHSAA did a quantitative analysis of all the 2015-2016 athletic transfers which was 569.
Of the 569 transfers:
- 189 were administered by the Local Education Agency (LEA).
Of the 189 LEA transfers:
- 155 (82%) were administered through the public schools.
- 34 (18%) were nonpublic.
Overall, only 89 (15%) of the 569 athletic transfers went from public to private. Select schools make up 27% of the LHSAA.
Another ‘checks & balances’ provided in the bylaws is if you as a school or principal believe one of your students have been recruited, it is your obligation to turn that school in. The LHSAA is somewhat a self-policing organization so if you have not turned in anyone for a recruiting violation, how can you support a proposal to split the Association because of recruiting? Hearsay? But time after time, no one turns in another school. The old excuse of “nothing gets done about it” is long gone. There is no excuse.
Few things to note, in 2016, a proposed amendment for Article 14.3.2 was submitted by Franklin Parish. It read “For playoff competition, schools that are classified as non-select but have registered a student or students through the online registration system as “not” living in school’s athletic attendance zone shall compete in the select playoff bracket.”
In 2020, the Executive Committee put up a proposal to not allow transfers to play non-varsity sports; therefore, they would have one year to sit and wonder if transferring was the right thing to do. The intent was to prevent student-athletes from transferring. Both of the above were shot down. A lot of prep writers felt 2020 was the last chance for the Association to reunite. I disagree simply because for the first time 28 schools voted for the proposal of 6 classes and a 1.25 multiplier which would have reunited the Association. Also, for the first time, the simple majority favored reunification, 175-162. However, it now takes 66% of the memberships vote to change the Constitution. However, if this same proposal was voted on by sport, a simple majority is all that is needed to pass.
I am a numbers person; I have all of the data to back up the above mention claims. I am not here to pick on certain schools, parishes, or school boards; I am simply here to lay out all the facts. The most disappointing aspect of this entire debacle is the membership (the Principals) using false information (or at absolute best, partial truths) to split a high school association that is made up of the very same kids they fight for every day. Instead, the Principal’s turn their backs on their own by allowing a proposal to pass which breached the Association’s Constitution.
It is time to make a change. In 2013, Jane Griffin said she would be leading the charge to make a change if her idea did not work! She obviously has been quarantined way prior to Covid’s arrival. So, if she will not live up to her word, it is time for the association to step up and do the right thing. The narrative of 2013 does not fit then and does not fit now. What most seem to agree on and believe it or not, makes the most logic is “if you want to split, split the schools between those who use a traditional attendance zone versus those that do not? As the membership, you owe it to the student-athletes to make things truly ‘fair and equitable.’