By Annie Ourso
A New York Times article on Nov. 19 featured the East Iberville football team out of St. Gabriel, Louisiana.
The squad of less than 20 had not won a single game for the second consecutive season, yet the Tigers were headed to the Class 1A playoffs.
All teams should share in the excitement of making playoffs, though, right? Everyone deserves a shot at the championship, don’t they?
East Iberville, 0-11, traveled five hours to lose 48-0. Four players decided to not even make the trip.
You tell me what’s exciting or deserving about that.
But East Iberville is not to blame. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association is.
The Times writer called it an “unintended consequence” of the LHSAA’s 2013 decision to split football playoffs based on public and private, or non-select and select, high schools.
Unintended may be the wrong word.
Supporters of this new system had to know a situation like East Iberville’s would happen. The public-private split diminishes competition and the significance of making playoffs and winning championships. It fosters the everyone-deserves-a-trophy mentality.
The LHSAA has raised the number of championships from five to nine and the number of playoff games from 155 to 217. In the postseason, public schools play in their Class 5A-1A divisions, while private schools compete in new Divisions I-IV.
The split, however, is not totally unreasonable. After all, LHSAA member-school principals voted 152-67 to keep the split in February. Some explanation must be behind this.
And there is: Public schools have grown tired of an uneven playing field.
Private schools are able to draw in students from outside the traditional attendance zones that limit public schools’ enrollments. Certain private schools are also accused of recruiting to garner the best athletes.
These practices have led to football powerhouses like John Curtis of River Ridge, which has won 25 state titles.
So the public school argument is understandable. The proposed solution, however, is not.
Splitting playoffs for public and private schools not only waters down the competition; it makes winning less meaningful.
The new system gives more teams a chance to win, but it’s unrealistic. In the real world, you cannot simply change the rules and reduce the competition to achieve success.
The playoff split could also be for economic gain – more games equal more money. But for the sake of the students and all that is good, I hope money is not the secret motive behind the LHSAA’s decision.
In the end, the bad outweighs the good in the split playoffs system. Now, you may ask, how else can we remedy the high school football woes?
Start at the root of the problem: recruiting. The LHSAA prohibits recruiting, of course, but it could do a better job at monitoring it.
Dutchtown High coach Benny Saia offered a viable alternative to the split playoffs system, according to The Advocate on June 20, 2013.
To solve recruiting issues, Saia suggested the LHSAA consider a system in which each school has its membership renewed every two years based on a vote of other member schools.
“There’s no question that something needed to be done,” Saia said. “There are (private) schools from Baton Rouge who come into Ascension Parish for players. And there are public schools who do some of the same things. But that’s not every school out there. My problem with this system is that you’re punishing some people who don’t deserve it.”