Thoughts on the Playoffs

Well guys, for a lot of us, the State championships mark the end of one sports year and the beginning of a new one. The march to the Dome comes to an end Friday night as teams converge on Atlanta in search of that ring. With that in mind, I had a few thoughts on the playoffs, the venue itself and what those of us below the gnat line can continue to expect in the new era of GHSA leadership.

Congrats to the teams still in it! First, there are teams that were expected to be in this game, and a few surprises. Colquitt was ranked #1 in the preseason, and with a few close games in the playoffs, rode the wave to the dome. The Packers are playing like a Div II college team, and the show against Archer should be a great one. It’s the culmination of all Rush has worked to build this program to. Archer is Metro Atlanta’s chance to stop him, with a fan base traveling less than 30 minutes to support their team. The Packers have a strong fan base too, and should fill the lower rim in the nightcap on Saturday night. Propst hasn’t really shown his cards much, seeming to score at will in the second half of playoffs or close games.

ghsa-logoIn AAAAA, surprise squad of the playoffs Mays will face a team who has been in the playoffs multiple times over the past decade. Under Conrad Nix, and now Kevin Kinsler, the Eagles soared in AAAAA when it was the largest classification in the state,  playing in arguably the toughest region in the state with Coffee, Houston, Warner Robins, Lowndes, Valdosta, Colquitt and Tift. Since the GHSA added the AAAAAA change, Northside has changed a little, as Kinsler took over and new school Veterans changed the demographics and school boundaries in Houston County. Last season saw Northside fall in the second round to Ware County.  This season, Ware was a highly ranked squad that was upset by Mays. Mays is ranked #10 going in the finals, dispatching Jones County and Stockbridge after shocking Ware in the 2nd round.

The only other game that peaks a south Georgia football fan’s interest in the finals will probably be Hawkinsville vs Irwin County.  The beauty of power rankings and a 16 team bracket in the Single A public bracket is that the higher team always hosts, and the 16 best teams (on paper) play. No disproportionate advantage for private schools with open recruiting, No more issues with weak regions, which do exist. In the single A public bracket, most fans expected to see a Irwin County vs Marion County rematch from last season. Irwin, under first year Head Coach Buddy Nobles, made their way on Friday, sending Commerce home with a 28-7 loss. Hawkinsville won a tight contest against Marion County 15-13, upsetting the #1 ranked team.

Shooting the GISA state championships a week ago on Saturday night, I was impressed with the atmosphere and the facilities Mercer University offered as the host stadium. Great light, new turf, and plenty of seating for fans. Northside used Mercer for their game against Allatoona Friday night. It got me to thinking, if the GHSA is as money conscious as they claim, and the Dome is going away, why not move the state championships to a more central location? Mercer, I’m told, would love the opportunity to showcase their school and facilities. It also would mean a slightly better travel burden on teams from south Georgia. I mean, if I’m Jesse Crews, the Charlton County AD, I’d rather bus to Macon than Atlanta any day. Likewise for Camden County, and the coastal teams. The trip is almost as long for Brooks, Thomasville, Lowndes and Valdosta. The only true benefit the dome provides is the weather doesn’t matter. If its cold outside or raining like it was during the GISA All-star game ( also held at Mercer).  But the reality is the Dome is going to be destroyed in 2017, after the opening of the new Falcons Stadium.

So what will happen? More that likely, the GHSA will try to work out use of the new Falcons Stadium, being built in Mount Vernon.  In another sore subject, private schools Greater Atlanta Christian and Benedictine put out the last two public schools in AA on Friday night. GAC won on a last second field goal over the Fitzgerald Hurricanes. Benedictine, a Savannah based military catholic school, rolled in the second half over Brooks County.  The all private school final brought up another debate regarding the separation of public and private, based on the open recruiting allowed by private schools. Meaning that, students from the Savannah region can attend Benedictine, regardless of the distance to the school. Fitzgerald is legally restricted by the county boundaries. Benedictine had played until recently in AAAAA, moving down to AA first in 2008  before reclassifying to AAAAA again in 2010.  They went 1-9 and 5-6 in that stint of AAAAA ball. Since dropping to AA again, the Cadets are 33-4. While Benedictine is restricting their enrollment to 400, the geographical area is a huge benefit.

Not long ago, a movement of primarily Single A school systems, but with some double A systems behind them, formed a organization known as the Georgia Public Schools Association. While larger systems watched with interest, and offered words of encouragement, these schools considered mutinying and forming their own league.  A vote by the GHSA members, formed the private and public school brackets we currently have. A lot of the larger classification reps, including notably Dave Hunter, said single A schools were whining, and should just do their best. Coaches and Superintendents from these schools are smiling now, as the buck has been passed up to Double AA. The impact, while seen in football this season, is larger on minor sports like tennis, golf, baseball and softball. A change is needed either with the creation of a private school division (which won’t happen) or a multiplier. The multiplier (1.5 the schools student FTE number) was killed in 2008, stating that data showed no notable change in frequency of private school championships with the multiplier. The GPSA seemed to disprove that theory, and now Double AA schools are experiencing the same issues.

All local fans and schools can do is talk to their region representative. This weekend, support our local teams. Check out this hype video for Colquitt. 

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