Warren Arceneaux column: No move is sometime best move

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023

Louisiana High School Athletic Association agreed Thursday to postpone a vote on whether to ratify the current playoff structure, which includes eight divisions for football and 10 for basketball, baseball and softball.

The member schools also postponed debating what criteria will be used to determine which schools are classified as select. That’s likely to be a contentious issue, as schools that were moved from non-select to select designation will likely want to go back. Both issues will be taken up in the summer at a second general meeting.

Those choices were equal parts wise and practical since changing the format in the middle of the school year — and just a couple of weeks away from the basketball playoffs starting — would have created a host of issues, including calculation of power ratings and the logistical issues involved in putting on an increased number of postseason games.

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As it stands, principals will wait until the summer to decide if they will keep the format, which they had no input on, as it was installed by the Executive Committee. Though the format was widely praised after the football playoffs, there’s no guarantee it would be approved by principals. Historically principals have always voted to increase the number of classes/divisions, not decrease them.

The Executive Committee’s plan reduced football from nine brackets to eight, while baseball, softball and basketball were reduced from 12 to 10.

The reduction had the desired effect in football, in which the number of blowout games in the early rounds had a drastic decrease.

The last team in the Division II field, No. 28 seed Breaux Bridge, won two games on the road to reach the quarterfinal round. North Vermilion also reached the quarterfinal round as a No. 23 seed. Jennings won on the road as a No. 25 seed to give outgoing head coach Rusty Phelps one more home game.

None of the eight football championship games featured a division’s top two seeds. In the 2021 season, four of the nine title games were a No 1 seed versus a No. 2 seed, with a fifth game pitting a No. 1 against a No. 3.

The biggest problem with the format is that it was installed after districts were determined in the reclassification process. As a result, teams from varying divisions are grouped in the same district.

Also, teams within a division play schedules that differ wildly in degree of difficulty. For example, Rosepine played in a Class 2A district and Westlake a 3A district, but both were placed into Division III when the new format went into effect. Rosepine played two games against 3A opponents in the regular season while Westlake faced six 3A teams and a 4A team.

That problem is unlikely to be resolved in the summer even if principals decide to keep the format, as football, as well as the districts that use a single round-robin in other sports, will be in the middle of home-and-home series.

That’s not an ideal situation, but it’s not a deal-breaker either. Better competition, fewer watered-down championships and more entertaining championship events are worth dealing with a minor hiccup. The new format is the best way to go if quality of play is the guiding principle for principles.

As with most votes, self-interest has won out more often than not in LHSAA votes, as seen with the public/private split years ago and seemingly never-ending addition of more classes/divisions aimed at giving more schools access to championships.

This summer we’ll see if principals break with history and vote in favor of the better product produced with the current format, or choose once again to vote for more trophies and a supposed better chance for each school to win one.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux@americanpress.com