The LHSAA will hand out nine championship trophies this weekend — the most ever awarded, and five more than when the Prep Classic started at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome 32 years ago.
Principals voted last January to split playoffs between non-select (public) and select (private and certain magnet) schools, and after much wrangling over what that would mean, settled on a nine-bracket system. Public schools continued to play in their traditional five-classification system, while the select schools were divided into four divisions.
The 32nd annual Prep Classic begins today with nine games over three days.
How the bigger Prep Classic — the original event included four games played on one day before expanding to five games over two days — plays out this weekend remains to be seen, and what’s next for the event will be determined next month at the LHSAA’s annual convention in Baton Rouge.
The LHSAA’s executive committee met earlier this month to begin discussing the January agenda, which will focus mainly on finding a permanent solution to the split.
One of the proposals would allow each class to vote whether or not to split during the playoffs. That would mean as few as five or as many as 10 different brackets. Another proposal would end the split altogether. A separate proposal would allow schools, such as John Curtis or Evangel, to play up in any class they desire. The current rule allows schools to play up only one class.
LHSAA executive director Kenny Henderson said he doesn’t know what will happen at the January meetings, but several coaches in the area and around the state are split on their desires.
Many coach Jess Curtis and Winnfield coach Andy Pyles said the split, which separated football powerhouses such as Curtis, Evangel and University Lab from traditional public schools, is a positive for schools such as theirs. Winnfield principal Jane Griffin authored the legislation that led to the playoff split.
Curtis said the current Class 2A bracket is more representative of what 2A football has traditionally been. The four semifinalists — Many, Winnfield, Kinder and Loreauville — were all schools from small, one-school towns.
“The privates have different rules,” Curtis said. “We have different rules. It’s unfair.”
Rick Hutson, the coach at Class 5A New Iberia, which lost in the second round to Zachary, said he wasn’t in favor of the split, but he can understand why some coaches are.
“I think the majority of the people I talk to are happy,” Hutson said. “I think some things need to be tweaked. I think nine champions is too many. But I think most people are happy with the split.”
Tommy Badon coaches at Westminster Christian Academy, a private school in Opelousas that competes in Class 2A. The Crusaders field a perenially strong football team that has advanced to the quarterfinals five times in the past decade, including in 2011 and 2012.
Westminster went 3-7 during the regular season this year, but the Crusaders still advanced to the Division III playoffs, where they lost to Archbishop Hannan in the first round.
Badon said he had “mixed emotions” about the current system.
“We know that we had no business being in the playoffs this year, and there were teams in our bracket with less business being in the playoffs than us,” he said. “When you have 0-fors and 1-fors and 2-fors in the playoffs, that’s not what athletics and sports is supposed to be about.
“But then again, I’ve heard people say that it’s nice that so-and-so made it for the first time. It’s exciting for those schools, but are they only there because they didn’t play some of the better schools?”
Tommy Byler, the coach at North Vermilion, which lost in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs, said he saw pros and cons with the current system. In some of the smaller classes, where there weren’t enough teams to fill up a 32-team bracket, there were teams who didn’t win a game that advanced to the playoffs.
“That’s not too good of a system in that class,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean the system was a total wash. It created “some interesting matchups” early in the playoffs and allowed some teams to advance deeper in the playoffs than they’ve ever been before.
“For some schools, like a Kinder or in Shreveport with Byrd or Parkway, it’s created a lot of excitement. It’s big-time excitement for those schools,” Byler said. “I also think that it’s going to create better matchups in the Dome. I think there’s going to be more excitement in the Dome. I think the games will be better. It got to where it was the same teams every year.”