Watered down … I don’t care!

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The principals in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association voted in 2016 to expand its split, which separates public and private schools from one another in postseason play.

The move started a few years ago in football, but now includes pretty much all of the state’s major sports.

The split expansion was hotly debated at the association’s annual convention, and it has put a clear, deep rift in the schools around Louisiana.

In its wake, we now have nine football state champions and 12 in basketball.

Some say the system is bad, because it’s “watered down”, and that a state title “no longer means as much as it used to,” because of how many trophies are handed out.

And I was sort of in that same line of thought, especially after seeing some that some teams needed to win just a handful of games to win the state championship in certain private school divisions.

But this past weekend, my opinion changed in a big way.

While spending countless hours over three days at the LHSAA Top 48 (used to be Top 28) Tournament in Lake Charles, I saw first-hand that more champions isn’t necessarily bad for the sport, because it sometimes gives more worthy teams a shot at high-stakes games.

And what I saw in Lake Charles wasn’t watered down. In fact, it was actually one of the best basketball showcases in my entire career covering games around the state of Louisiana.

The critics of the split say that more blowouts take place in the current format because lesser teams make the players with 12 brackets.

Some of that is true.

But let’s not pretend that first-round blowouts are a new occurrence. Teams like Madison Prep, University Lab, Peabody and some of the other top-tier powerhouses in Louisiana have always and will always score dominant victories throughout postseason – regardless of the opponent or classification.

Yes, this year there were a couple games with 90 or 100-plus-point spreads.

But is that really the system’s fault, or is that the fault of classless coaches who don’t know how to pull back?

There is no situation where a varsity basketball team should win a game by 100 points. Or even 60 or 70 points for that matter.

There is no shot clock.

Pull the basketball out and play shot-free, pass-happy basketball.

The quarters are only 8 minutes long. With a few-straight 45-second possessions, the game will be over in no time.

Having class has nothing to do with the amount of teams in a particular playoff bracket.

But let’s save the argument about ethics and get back to the point at hand.

Critics of the split told anyone who’d listen throughout the season that the quality of play in the postseason would be lessened by having more state champions and more playoff games.

They also said that fans would revolt against the watered down system and wouldn’t support the games.

Wrong and wrong.

This past year’s Top 28/48 was the best I’ve ever covered.

Literally every, single game from Thursday to Saturday was competitive and entertaining. No one in the field definitively stood out as a team that didn’t deserve to be on that big of a stage. These past few days showed me exactly why Johnny Jones deserved to be fired, because there is TONS of talent in Louisiana waiting to be scooped up. There is no reason the LSU basketball team should ever be as bad as the Tigers were this past year.

But again, that’s another column for another day.

Fans were there in droves, too, picking apart the theory about fans losing interest.

With 20 more teams in Lake Charles, attendance was way up.

We were only in the gym from Thursday – Saturday, but each day was near sold out at one time or another.

That was not the case in years past.

Look, the system is warped and it’s imperfect.

But what’s the way to fix it?

That’s the problem – there isn’t a simple solution and nothing that can be done will make everyone happy.

So I say that we look at the positives and just enjoy the fact that our little ol’ watered down system just produced one of the most entertaining weekends of basketball in the history of Louisiana.

That’s something Executive Director Eddie Bonine should be proud of – a rare victory in a tenure that’s been filled with defeats.

But, of course, Bonine wasn’t at any of the Championship Games, because he’s out of the state politicking for another job.

Again, that’s another column for another day.


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