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Opinion: Big change coming to LHSAA postseason in several sports but many questions remain

The LHSAA’s postseason will have a decidedly different look in football, basketball, softball and baseball in 2022-23.

Earlier this month, the organization’s executive committee by a 16-5 vote approved a change in how schools will be put in non-select and select categories in the 2022-23 school year.

Select schools will now include all charter schools, all schools with magnet programs or magnet components, and parishes with open-enrollment policies. Those will join the private schools, full magnet schools and laboratory schools that have been deemed select since the LHSAA divided into select and non-select schools for postseason play in football in 2013.

Boys and girls basketball, softball and baseball were split in 2016.

The executive committee was able to change the definition of non-select under Bylaw 4.4.4. which states that it can “make special rules to effect the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship.” 

According to an initial Alpha list of select and non-select schools released by the LHSAA, about 90 of the member schools will move from the non-select to select category.

In his June 6 press conference, LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonnie said that 52.1 percent of the member schools are now select and and 47.9 non-select. Every Caddo Parish school except Northwood has been moved from the non-select to select category.

But schools have until June 21 to appeal their designation. According to a media report, the Rapides Parish School Board voted to take legal action against the LHSAA after all its schools were moved from the non-select to select category because it has an open-enrollment policy.

So obviously nothing is set in stone.

So what does this mean for the six LHSAA high schools in Bossier Parish?

All six will remain in the non-select category. Also, the regular season is not affected. All schools will remain in the respective classes and districts they were assigned during the 2022-23 reclassification process last year.

In the press conference, LHSAA Assistant Executive Director Mike Federico said the select schools will be divided into four divisions for the playoffs.

As for the non-select schools, it appears they will remain in classes. How many remains to be seen. Bonine said it’s possible that some classes could be combined to make competition more equitable.

The brackets in each sport won’t become official until the executive committee’s next meeting in early September. The number of teams in the brackets could be 32 or 24 or 16.

Bonine said a major reason for the change was how the brackets have looked during the split.

“We have 32-team brackets that shouldn’t be there,” he said. “We have 24-team brackets that shouldn’t be there. We have 16-team brackets that shouldn’t be there.”

The number of teams that make the playoffs has certainly resulted in some lopsided scores and short games after long trips in the first round.

“There are certain sports you don’t need somebody who hadn’t won a game or won three games and lost 28 to be on a bracket,” Bonine said. “They don’t deserve to be there. And I know I’m going to get heat for it.”

A playoff game may be a great experience for a student-athlete, Bonine said. But how good for student-athletes can it really be if the game is stopped by a run-rule or other mercy rule, he added

I agree with Bonine 100 percent. The playoffs should be a reward for a good season.

Bonine said he made a motion that to make the playoffs teams would have to win at least 50 percent of their games with power ratings used as usual to seed the brackets.

It didn’t pass. And I’m not sure that I’d go that far. Teams should be rewarded for playing tough schedules. In football, scheduling could easily be the difference between having a 4-6 season and a 5-5 or better season.

In some select divisions, Bonine said schools that have already played each other several times have had to “travel 160 miles to play each other again” in the playoffs.

The costs incurred and number of game officials necessary for those first-round games are also problematic.

Bonine pointed out that there has for sometime now been a shortage of game officials not just in Louisiana but nationwide. That’s one reason the executive committee voted unanimously to use the same venues for non-select and select state championship events again. Select schools have recently been able to choose their own venues.

In case you’re wondering if the new setup will enhance Bossier Parish schools’ chances of winning state championships or making deeper playoff runs, that’s hard to say.

But in football it probably won’t. Seven of the eight schools that made the quarterfinals, including Parkway, in the 2021 season will still be in the non-select category. As it stands now, the only traditional power making the move to select is Acadiana.

In 4A boys basketball it’s a bit different. Bossier had no problem making deep playoff runs under the previous setup. The Bearkats are moving from 3A to 4A. Seven of the 2021-22 boys basketball non-select quarterfinal teams are listed as select in the Alpha list. Edna Karr, also a football powerhouse, was already moving to 5A.

Parish girls basketball teams also enjoyed postseason success in under the previous system.

Of the eight teams that made the quarterfinals last season, including Parkway, only two are moving to the select category. One of those is Lafayette, which Parkway defeated 55-54 in the semifinals last season.

In 5A baseball and softball, not much will change. All eight baseball teams that made the non-select quarterfinals last season remain in that category. 

Seven of the eight softball quarterfinalists also are still non-select. Only Pineville, a Rapides Parish School and the No. 1 seed (lost in quarterfinals), is listed in the select category.

It’s never easy to win a state championship or make a deep playoff run, and obviously it shouldn’t be.

Proponents of the original split would argue that it wasn’t about making winning championships easier. 

Of course, as mentioned earlier, the final list could look very different once all appeals have been decided.

And here’s the kicker.

The entire setup may just be a one-year deal. The full LHSAA membership could vote to change things up again at it annual meeting in January.

Some have argued that the new setup is just a way of trying to force an end to the split. Bonine said that’s not the case. It’s simply about making things more equitable.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

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