COVID-19 cloud still hovers over Louisiana high school athletics | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

I really don’t know that Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) Executive Director Eddie Bonine had any other choice.

Early in August, the LHSAA announced any school forced to cancel a football game due to COVID-19 cases on their roster would wind up forfeiting the game.

A year ago, it was considered a no contest until the playoffs, which resulted in a forfeit.

In Central Louisiana, Marksville was forced out of the playoffs before the first round started. The Tigers’ final regular-season opponent was Caldwell Parish, which subsequently had a player test positive. Due to contact tracing, Marksville was done before it could even take a look at Green Oaks, its opponent in the first round of the 3A playoffs, or conduct a practice.

Marksville's Triston Dunbar (21) runs for yardage against Jena last season.

As the 2021 LHSAA football season hits Week 3, the impact of Bonine’s ruling is being felt across the state.

THE BATTLE AGAINST COVID-19:How Louisiana high school teams are preparing for another COVID season

Block coach Benny Vault likely wasn’t envisioning to start the season 0-3, but the Bears have played just one game – a season-opening 14-6 loss to Buckeye. The Jonesville school was forced to forfeit games against Lakeside and Grant due to COVID-19 protocols.

Ville Platte is 0-2 after having its Tee Cotton Bowl game with crosstown rival Sacred Heart in Week 1 canceled as well as last week’s game with Oakdale due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 has been such a problem around the program, the Bulldogs haven’t even been able to scrimmage. Friday, Ville Platte is scheduled to host Northwood-Lena and the Gators are unsure if they will be making the trip or enjoying a night off.

WEEK 3 SCHEDULE:Alexandria area high school football schedule for Week 3 of 2021 LHSAA season

COVID-19 isn’t just an issue in Central Louisiana, even though it has impacted a local team every week, including jamboree week as Alexandria Senior High was forced out of the Bayou Jamb held at Louisiana-Monroe. Fortunately, the Trojans have not missed a regular-season game, and posted an impressive 59-35 victory over St. Thomas More and star quarterback Walker Howard.

ASH's T.J. Johnson (11, left) reaches across the goal line for a touchdown ahead of St. Thomas More defenders in a game held Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 at Butch Stoker Memorial Stadium.

Pineville’s opening-week opponent, Sulphur, could not build on its win over the Rebels. It had a player test positive last week, and due to contact tracing, had to forfeit its game against Notre Dame of Crowley. This week’s game against Iowa was moved to Saturday in hopes the Tors will have enough kids back from quarantine to play.

The issue with the games now being counted as forfeits is the fact it impacts the power ratings that are used to not only select the teams that make the playoffs, but also where they will be seeded in the playoffs.

For a school like Pineville that has a new coach in Bryant Bell and traditionally scraps to make the playoffs in Class 5A, having Sulphur forfeit a game or two impacts its power points. The best thing for the Rebels would be for Sulphur to win as many games as possible.

Forfeiting games due to COVID is also being done in the SEC. Some have jokingly suggested Alabama’s opponents should forfeit rather than take a likely beat down.

The impact of a forfeit in college is only severe if it wipes out the revenue from a home game, or worse, TV revenue.

However, there are major differences between the SEC and the LHSAA. Notably, SEC programs have been encouraging vaccinations among players. A month ago, Ole Miss became the first school to claim it was 100 percent vaccinated. Still, head coach Lane Kiffin missed the Rebels’ season-opening win against Louisville because he tested positive.

The SEC’s financial resources also provide a health and wellness security blanket while some high schools in Louisiana struggle to have certified athletic trainers.

As we’ve witnessed in this country the past two months, COVID-19 isn’t going away. Its impact is being felt everywhere, even on the playing field each Friday night.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.