Are the private schools too dominant?
That is the big question facing principals this week in advance of the annual LHSAA convention, where two proposals calling for separate playoff divisions for public and private (or select and non-select) schools that could reshape the way high school sports are organized will be considered. This has been an ongoing debate for more than a decade.
Proposals for splitting the publics and privates were voted down twice, most recently in 2004. Last year, a proposal calling for the split was tabled until this year. That proposal, authored by former South Beauregard principal Marlin Ramsey, will be heard this year and would affect most sports beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
A new proposal would split schools only for football playoffs and would go into effect next school year.
So far, only one major change has taken place in the long history of the debate — prohibiting schools from “playing up,” in a class higher than its enrollment level. Even that change was somewhat mitigated when principals voted to allow schools to move up one class beginning next year.
Class 2A powers John Curtis and Evangel are choosing to move up to 3A for the next two school years. Which, of course, makes the other 3A schools the big losers and the other 2A schools the big winners of this round of classification, if you define winning and losing by the odds of winning a state championship. Or, at least, not having to face John Curtis or Evangel to do so.
The inordinate number of championships being won by private schools is the root cause of this seemingly never-ending private versus public debate and string of proposals.
At the most recent Superdome Prep Classic, seven of the 10 participants — and four of the five champions — were private schools. Either Curtis or Evangel won the 2A championship in each of the six years they have both been in the division, and neither lost a playoff game during that span to anyone but the other. In four of the six years, the playoff meeting came in the championship game. In the other two seasons, it came in the semifinals.
The private school dominance was apparent in other sports as well. In the 2011-12 school year, private schools won the majority of state championships in girls basketball, baseball and softball. In boys basketball, two private schools won titles and two more champions — Peabody and Scotlandville — may be classified as “select” schools if such a designation is made. Last fall, private schools swept all five volleyball state championships.
If either of the two far-reaching proposals considered this week passes, private schools would only play each other in the playoffs in new “classes” called Division I (for private/select admission schools in classes 3A-5A) and Division II (private schools in classes 1-2A), while the public schools would play each other in Classes 1A-5A.
Among the issues to be resolved would be how to define “select” schools, a difficult task with dual-curriculum schools such as Peabody, Scotlandville and Washington-Marion.
Another issue this would cause would be the format for playoffs for Divisions I and II. In Division II, there may be as few as 28 teams. Classes 1A-3A would have about 48 non-select schools each after removing the select schools. Keeping 32-team brackets for playoffs would be implausible.
The only “problem” approving a split would solve is giving public schools an easier road to state championships by diluting the competition.
That issue is important enough to some people for these proposals to keep coming up, but as of yet has not become such a big deal that the majority of principals have been willing to take the drastic step of approving a private/public split.
This time around, the principals will have the option of maintaining the status quo, making a change only for football, or revamping the majority of sports played in the state.
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Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org