Principals vote to split prep football playoffs starting next year

BATON ROUGE — After more than a decade of debate and several votes to keep the status quo, Louisiana High School Athletic Associations principals approved what amounts to a public/private school split for the football playoffs at Friday’s general business meeting.

The proposal passed Friday will go into effect next season. The regular season will remain the same but create two new postseason divisions for “select” schools — defined as all non-public, charter, university lab, magnet and dual-curriculum schools that include at least 25 percent of their enrollment as select-admission students who do not live in the designated attendance zone.

Select schools in Classes 5A-3A will form Division I for the playoffs, while those in Classes 2A and 1A will comprise Division II. Non-select/public schools will compete in Classes 5A-1A.

In Southwest Louisiana, private schools St. Louis Catholic and Hamilton Christian will be designated select schools, with St. Louis going into Division I and Hamilton into Division II for the postseason. Washington-Marion, which has a dual-curriculum enrollment, does not meet the 25 percent threshold and will be grouped with the non-select/public schools, said W-M Principal Robert Pete.

St. Louis and Hamilton voted against the split. The vote was 206 votes in favor of the split, 119 against, and largely went according to partisan lines with most public schools voting in favor and most private schools voting against.

“I voted no because I don’t like to split us up. I think kids are all the same,” said St. Louis Principal Ted Nixon. “I think when we split ourselves up we become weaker. When you look at Division I, we are going to have a tough road to hoe. We’ll see how it works. We are going into unchartered waters.”

Enrollment size has been the lone criterion used for separating LHSAA schools during the organization’s history.

That will change as a result of increasing backlash against the dominance of private schools at the Superdome Prep Classic.

In the 2012 edition, seven of the 10 participants — and four of the five champions, were private schools. John Curtis Christian has appeared in 17 consecutive championship games.

The Patriots, and fellow 2A superpower Evangel Christian, will have a rougher time extending that streak. In a handout from Commissioner Kenny Henderson showing how the schools could be separated, Curtis and Evangel were two of the smallest three Division I schools. They voluntarily moved up to Class 3A during fall redistricting and will be grouped with 5A schools with the likes of as last year’s champion Archbishop Rummel, Jesuit and St. Paul’s.

Issues to be worked out include determining which select schools qualify for the playoffs, and which dual-curriculum schools will be classified as select schools.

LHSAA bylaws calling for 32-team football playoff brackets were left unchanged, but there could be as few as 27 non-select schools in Class 1A.

Also approved were proposals calling for a return to the old format for basketball playoffs, with separate championship tournaments for boys and girls. Each tournament will host semifinal and final rounds. Sites will be determined by bid this summer.

Last season and this season, three regional sites host all semifinal-round games, with all championship games played at one site.

The Class 5A baseball playoffs will have a new format beginning in 2014, with a single game in the bi-district round followed by best 2-of-3 series in the regional and quarterfinal rounds. The state tournament will be reduced from eight teams to four, but remain single elimination.