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Proposed bill would do away with LHSAA because of split playoffs

NATCHEZ — Both Vidalia High School football coach Gary Parnham Jr. and Ferriday High School football coach Cleothis Cummings are in favor of recent changes to the LHSAA playoff format.

But a pre-filed bill currently in the Louisiana legislature — House Bill 267 — is looking to combat those changes.

Both Vidalia and Ferriday are considered non-select schools, or schools that cannot pick and choose who attends their school. Often times in the playoffs, non-select schools will face select schools, or private and charter schools that can pick and choose who attends their school.

Cummings and Parnham argue that select schools have an unfair advantage in being able to recruit athletes to play for their schools, while non-select schools can’t. Those concerns permeated many of the LHSAA members schools, to the point where the playoff format was changed this past winter.

Though district alignment in each classification remains the same, select schools and non-select schools will be split in two different playoff brackets beginning this fall. But HB 267 is seen as countermeasure to the split.

The bill states, “No public high school shall participate in any interscholastic athletic activity directed or regulated by any organization or association that discriminates among schools on the basis of school admissions criteria in classifying schools into divisions for competition in any sport during the regular season or playoffs.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Parnham said of the bill. “If this passes, this will throw athletics in the State of Louisiana into chaos.”

Cummings said if the bill passed and the LHSAA was disbanded, there would be a huge void to fill in terms of managing high school athletics in Louisiana.

“It’s been an association for so long, and the question is, what association would we be affiliated with if it happened?” Cummings said.

Parnham also questioned the logic in disbanding the LHSAA and wondered what would happen after hypothetically doing so.

“Are they going to try to create another association and just have public and private schools back in a new association?” Parnham said. “Then you’ve got what you had before, so I don’t see how this will benefit or help anything.”

Both coaches support the changes to the playoff format, saying that their teams would eventually run into a select school if they got far enough into the postseason.

“If you want to be so selfish and naïve to think that the smaller non-select schools can compete with the larger select schools, you’re being ridiculous in that,” Cummings said. “The split was something that needed to happen a long time ago.”

Parnham said it’s harder for non-select schools to win a state championship against select schools, since select schools can fill their roster with players from outside designated school zones.

“It’s not a level playing field, as far as the public schools go, because we get the kids that are coming to us from the junior high,” Parnham said. “We can’t go out if we need a tailback or a quarterback and find one and bring him into school like (select schools) can. We have schools zones, and we can only get kids from those zones.”

There’s also the question as to why high school athletics is the state legislature’s business in the first place, Parnham said.

“It’s just my opinion, but we’ve got too many problems in the State of Louisiana, and them dealing with high school athletics really shouldn’t be one of their problems to be concerned with,” he said.

Football is currently the only sport in LHSAA that will split select and non-select schools in the playoffs, but Parnham said there’s a proposal up for next year to extend the split to all sanctioned sports.