Audio: Bonine discusses LHSAA reclassification, uniting title venues, NIL policy

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Changes are coming in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association for the 2022-23 school year.

This we know.

What they will be will not manifest themselves until September.

This we know.

LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine spoke to the changes on All Access on NASH ICON, 106.1 FM Wednesday night.

With as many as 55 percent of the schools in Louisiana now classified as select schools, the dynamic of the playoffs in the sports that have been split in the playoffs will look dramatically different.

What those playoffs look like and whether all schools classified as select by the Executive Committee remain such in the near future remains to be seen.

Bonine is in his eighth year on the job and he has absorbed much in his tenure.

“You learn to sit back and observe and not everything needs an immediate reaction,” Bonine said. “This is my fourth reclassification.”

Why was their a need for such change now?

“When we went through our bylaws, the book, in 2018, the only mention of select was in those respective sports in which we were having separate championships and the definition was such that it hadn’t been approved initially,” Bonine said.

At that point, the “25 percent rule” was in place, the interpretation being that if 25 percent or more of your students came from outside of your attendance zone, your school would be classified as select.

“The definition that we had, it was on a regular basis that people said ‘why isn’t this school select?’ Bonine said. “We had a constitutional attorney that assisted in this process and it came down to if people want to know what is select and non select, when we dove in and established the three definitions that we did.”

Those making the decisions are a diverse group, according to Bonine.

“The Executive Committee of the LHSAA is about 30 people and every school in the state, every class in the state, private, parochial, public, non-public, all are represented around this table,” Bonine said. “We have two legislators on our committee. There’s a large group of stakeholders who represent a lot of people across our state.”

Bonine explained the criteria of reclassifying schools to where the select schools now outnumber their non select brethren.

“All we did was apply the matrix that was used which I wasn’t here at the time, 2012, 2013 and 2014 in regards to why schools should be select and non select,” Boniine said.

That investigation revealed that 55 percent of the LHSAA schools have students that come from outside of the school parish, have students that move around within the parish and have the choice to move around the parish.

“We found that about 45 percent of the membership have students who actually live in their attendance zone, the old community school, if you will,” Bonine said.

Those are now the schools classified as non select.

“We had new members who came onto our committee who wanted to make some changes who felt it wasn’t equitable and felt we had to have ‘like’ schools playing each other and that our formats needed to be adjusted,” Bonine said.

In recent years, a huge number of teams with losing records, some with awful records, have been seeded to participate in the split playoff format. A few simply elected to not participate in the playoffs, knowing they would lose money and lose by a large margin in competition.

“Our brackets were watered down and it was too big for the number of schools that were in,” Bonine said. “All of this stuff was taken into consideration before the committee made the decision unanimously that we have now to put into play for the 2022-23 school year. We can make adjustments as necessary.”

The number of teams making the playoffs and brackets in respective sports will be determined after final appeals are heard and ruled upon. The likelihood is either full 32-team brackets or 24-team brackets for the sports that the association is split in.

With appeals on the horizon and possible lawsuits perhaps lurking, does Bonine feel the reclassification of so many schools will last the typical two-year cycle for rules implemented?

“We’ve made this decision and we’re going to make some more adjustments once we get past the appeals September 7,” Bonine said. “We have 18 appeals which represent about 70 schools with 13 parishes having multiple schools they are appealing for. Not every school in some of those parishes is appealing.”

Once the appeals are done, the committee will provide direction to Bonine on responding to the appeals in writing.

“Shortly thereafter, we’ll get to the playoff brackets as quickly as we can,” Bonine said. “At the end of the day, schedules are in, nobody can change their schedules. Whatever does come out, all of our schedules are driven by power points. Those things are all in place.”

Despite the angst of schools to know their classification and playoff brackets, there will be no rush to judgment.

“We’re going to take our time and make sure that our executive committee can put their blessing on it before we get it out to the public,” Bonine said.

The decision to reclassify schools was made under bylaw 4.4.4 in the LHSAA constitution which is all about fair play and sportsmanship.

The opening sentence of 4.4.4 says, “Make special rules to effect the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship.”

Principals will have the right to voice their opinions at the annual LHSAA convention in Baton Rouge in late January, 2023.

“What this definition is completely reflects on that,” Bonine said. “They (principals) can change that back to whatever they want to change it back to. We would have to make all the adjustments and they would be implemented in 2023-24. The bottom line is that we needed to make some changes.”

Bonine feels the changes being made are positive ones.

“I think the academic standards and the accountability pieces coming down the pike in August and what we’ve done is going to really change the landscape of where students go, where they go and where they land in terms of their eligibility and what the brackets will look like for the postseason,” Bonine said.

Bonine refutes the notion that bringing select school championships back to the same venues as non select schools was aimed at preventing select schools from making more money, which they did at their separate sites.

“Have you ever heard that come out of my mouth, Ken Trahan?” Bonine asked. “It’s not. For those individuals again that feel a need to read into something and that’s a very small group that’s saying that.”

To the contrary, Bonine implied that bringing all back together will impact the LHSAA in negative fashion financially.

“We’re not going to make any more money by bringing select back,” Bonine said. “We save money by not having the select schools in the Superdome. That’s almost two more days that we don’t have to pay for. It’s not saving us any money. The money well spent for me is the fact that the student-athletes have a great experience.”

Bonine insists that his board has fair representation among public and private schools, saying there are six private school members on the board and even more on the board who represent select schools.

Bonine insists the strain placed on the LHSAA was significant by having separate championships.

“This will be the first time I say this publicly, we dealt more with the select school championships in football, basketball and baseball than we did with our LHSAA-sanctioned hosted sites because of the venue changes,” Bonine said. It’s not just running a tournament like you would run a tournament.”

Bonine feels uniting championships will provide consistency and professionalism.

“That’s why we have the LHSAA,” Bonine said. “That’s why we do what we do and we get paid to do what we do, that’s to run quality postseason events that ensure the student-athlete, the fans, the officials and the media have a positive experience. That did not necessarily happen away from the events that we were hosting.”

Is there still a realistic chance at reducing the number of classifications and, thus, the number of championships crowned in different sports?

“It would be up to the membership but it also will be up to the committees that we have set up for making recommendations,” Bonine said. “I truly believe that my director of coaching and my director of officiating have a firm grip on the pulse of what’s going on.”

With the mention of Name, Image and Likeness possibly filtering down to the high school level, how much does that concern Bonine?

“It’s not a concern but what we’ve done with the LHSAA, we’re the only state association in the United States that is requiring the principal and athletic director to educate themselves. We’re not regulating NIL.

“There’s been forms of NIL going on for some time across our state. We want to make sure that our coaches, principals, athletic directors and the parents and the athletes have the ability to educate themselves. Education is important. We do not have any plan to regulate at this particular juncture.”

Still, the NIL train is rolling down the tracks and it will be hard to stop.

“It’s coming,” Bonine said. “There’s not much we can do about it. All we can do is make sure those individuals who would benefit from it can. Those who don’t will know why they can or they can’t. We don’t want people to be taken advantage of. I’m not fearful of it. We just need to stay on top of it.”

The goal of the association and the outlook for the immediate future are clear.

“We want to do what’s right and make it as equitable as possible,” Bonine said. “I think we’re on an upward trend, a positive trend. I expect nothing but good things in 2022-23 for the LHSAA and everybody that participates in our sanctioned sports.”

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Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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