Here’s how options would affect Muscogee schools
By CHRIS WHITE
Sweeping changes could hit some long-standing high school sports landscapes Monday as the Georgia High School Association is expected to vote in a new classification system for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.
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The GHSA reclassification committee meets today in Macon, Ga., to discuss several possibilities and will present its decision to be voted on Monday by the executive committee.
The GHSA classification system has been criticized for spreading regions across large areas and increasing the need to travel long distances as well as for the disparity of enrollment numbers at schools in its largest classifications. The rift over what to do about it reportedly has waxed and waned between committee members leading up to the meetings with several possibilities rising to the top of the heap.
In one scenario, the GHSA would recalculate the way it divides schools into its five-classification system based on their enrollment numbers. In another, a sixth classification would be added and the numbers would be recalculated to more evenly distribute the schools.
And in yet another plan, the GHSA would divide into four classifications for the regular season and split into eight based on attendance numbers for the postseason.
The 4-8 plan won a straw poll at a reclassification committee meeting earlier this month, but the options have left committee members, athletic directors and coaches pulling in different directions, said Gary Gibson, the Muscogee County School District system-wide athletic director and chief administrative assistant to the superintendent.
“There’s a gap right now, and I don’t think it’s getting wider, but I don’t think it’s getting smaller, either,” Gibson said. “I don’t know that they are going to be able to settle on something that they can all be happy with.”
If the reclassification committee fails to reach a decision on a single plan, the executive committee is likely to consider the options and vote to make a change Monday.
Difference in talent pools
In Class AAAAA, there was a nearly 1,500-student difference between the projected enrollment at the largest school, Brookwood (3,433 students), and the smallest school not voluntarily playing up a classification, Shiloh (1,915), in late 2009 when the state was last reclassified. If those 1,500 students were placed in a school all their own, it would qualify as a Class AAAA school.
The two prevailing trains of thought on how to deal with that difference in talent pools is to either adjust the numbers so only the largest of Class AAAAA schools remain in that classification or add a sixth classification and adjust the numbers accordingly.
One suggestion for a six-classification adjustment, proposed by former Brookwood coach and athletic director Dave Hunter, would place the largest 15 percent of schools into Class AAAAAA, roughly 15 percent in each of the middle four classifications and around 20 percent in Class A, according to the Macon Telegraph.
The 4-8 plan, while popular, also has raised the most ire, Gibson said.
“That one has the most sting to it,” Gibson said. “With a big and a small school winning a championship, there would be eight state champions. Some people don’t seem to like that idea.”
In that plan, schools would be divided into four classifications and play through the regular season in a geographic region. But when the playoffs come, they will be split into a large and small sub-classification based on enrollment and compete for one of two championships in that classification.
4-8 plan would benefit Muscogee County
The 4-8 plan likely would be most beneficial to Muscogee County high schools in terms of trimming down travel time and expenses, raising revenue with more in-town football games and likely guaranteeing all eight of the county’s schools fall into one of two regions together.
The county’s high schools are in three regions in three classifications -- regions 5-AA, 6-AAA and 1-AAAA -- and Northside and Hardaway trek more than 130 miles to their two most-distant region opponents, Thomas County Central and Bainbridge.
“One of the biggest things this year has been travel,” said Northside athletic director Morgan Ingram, whose school jumped a classification to Class AAAA in the previous reclassification. “I’d like to see Columbus schools back together rather than spread out in three different classifications like they are now.”
If the 4-8 plan passes, Gibson said Kendrick, Jordan, Spencer and Carver likely would be in a Class AA region together, Hardaway and Northside likely would stay in the same region, and Class AAA schools Columbus and Shaw could slide either way, depending on how the enrollment numbers are divided.
One provision of the 4-8 plan calls for more regions with fewer teams in them. While many regions have eight teams and some are twice as large and subdivided, new regions in the 4-8 plan would have four or five teams closer to one another. That would save on travel for all sports and free more Friday nights in the fall for high school athletic departments’ biggest money-makers -- in-town rivalry football games.
“I’m hoping that however the GHSA re-aligns this next rotation of classifications, we will be able to play more games in town,” Gibson said. “Travel has gotten more expensive, and it would be nice for some of the schools to have a few more games in town to sell tickets and fund their extracurricular activities. It used to be (a football team) would play seven games here in town, and they could make a profit off of that.”
Muscogee schools could be split more or play up
While changing the classifications could bring Muscogee County schools together, there is also a chance the enrollment numbers the executive committee decides to use could split MCSD teams. Kendrick and Jordan, which are a smaller Class AA schools, could fall to Class A while Kendrick and Carver are likely to remain in Class AA, potentially putting MCSD’s sports into four regions in four classifications.
One solution would be for Muscogee County schools to play up a classification, which it can do by lobbying the GHSA. Muscogee schools routinely did so in the past to keep a city-based region together.
Athletic directors at several schools said they would not mind having to play in a different classification again if asked to do so. Jordan athletic director Gerald Turner said he would prefer it if it means being able to play games in the city more often.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t play up,” Turner said. “We could have a Columbus region again and save money on gas and buses. It doesn’t make sense for all the schools to be spread around like they are right now.”
The decision to play up would fall to MCSD superintendent Susan Andrews. Gibson said he does not expect her to make a request against the GHSA’s upcoming decision.
“Whatever decision is made, it will be made based on the safety of the student-athletes,” Gibson said. “But I think our teams are competitive regardless of where we put them, and I think that will continue no matter what the GHSA does at this meeting.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhtie and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.