Private schools recruit.
This should be no secret to anybody. Private schools don’t have the built-in advantage of public schools to expect the enrollment of any school-aged child in the schools’ attendance zones.
Private schools have to advertise for all of their students somehow, whether it’s through buying a newspaper ad or a billboard, or by encouraging parents who have already bought in to talk to their neighbors and friends. There is nothing wrong with this.
The problem arises when a student is also an athlete. While private schools have to recruit all their students, the schools are not supposed to poach known athletes from other schools to rig the competition.
So, the question becomes: How do Louisiana private schools recruit students without running afoul of the athletic recruiting prohibition of the state athletics association?
The simplest way to do this might be to follow the Mississippi model.
Most private schools in Mississippi are members of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, rather than the Mississippi High School Activities Association. Schools must receive special permission from the associations to play a school in the other association.
About 20 schools in Louisiana belong to MAIS, from Bogalusa to Ruston.
There are those on both sides in Mississippi who claim that — because the public and private schools don’t play each other much, and under special circumstances — there’s no sense of competition between them, and little need to specifically recruit athletes; but if the private schools do recruit athletes, there’s no direct damage, because the recruiting school and the poaching school likely won’t be playing each other, anyway.
A caveat must be noted here, however. Catholic and Episcopal schools in Mississippi tend to be in the MHSAA instead of the MAIS — which, when founded as the Mississippi Private School Association, catered to “segregation academies.”
There are relatively few Catholic and Episcopal schools in Mississippi, however, and they tend to be small schools, so their effect on public schools as far as student count and athletic competition is negligible.
A separate private school association would definitely have a different flavor with the large number of Catholic schools in Louisiana, but it would probably work just as well.
There is no serious proposal to separate private schools from the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
The LHSAA is considering several proposals that would divide public schools and private schools into separate divisions for playoff purposes. These proposals would keep the schools in the same association, but pit public schools against public schools and private schools against private schools in the postseason.
Whether this would have any practical effect on the issue of any illicit athletic recruitment that might be going on in the state is anyone’s guess.
Neither the Louisiana proposals or the Mississippi model would curb any recruitment by private schools to gain a competitive advantage over other private schools.
Enforcing existing rules against athletic recruitment can be problematic. How is the recruitment proved? Without some tangible evidence — a recording, a document or even proof of a payoff, if extended — recruitment is a difficult case of we-say, they-say.
What constitutes illegal recruitment? The LHSAA Handbook says, “‘Athletic recruiting’ is defined as the use of undue influence and/or special inducement by anyone connected directly or indirectly with an LHSAA school in an attempt to encourage, induce, pressure, urge or entice a prospective student of any age to transfer to or retain a student at a school for the purpose of participating in interscholastic athletics.”
And who is “anyone connected directly or indirectly with an LHSAA school?” A principal, teacher, coach, student, parent, booster, janitor or anybody else with the remotest of connections to a school.
Given the definitions provided, it’s a wonder more instances of recruitment aren’t alleged. Yet, given the proof needed, it might be a miracle if a recruitment were ever to be proven and punished.
The proposals on the table and the models provided by nearby states may not show a perfect solution, but it’s a good thing for all involved that some people are thinking about how to improve the system.