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GHSA playoff shortfall exposed by blowouts

When you go to a Georgia high school state playoff football game and pay a GHSA-mandated $8 admission you expect to see some competition, right? In this past weekend's first round action, fans at 45 of the 80 games watched games that were decided by 20 points or more. I don't call that competitive.

Among the scores were 68-8, 60-0, 52-0, 53-8, 51-6, 52-15, 56-24, 41-0, 43-6, 45-14, 49-14, 49-7, 41-6 and 35-0. Can we honestly say that teams on the short end of these scores belonged in the playoffs? Some even traveled four plus hours to get humiliated.

When the GHSA expanded the playoff field to four teams from each region, and further diluted things by going to five classifications, you could see this coming. The imbalance that exists when you have only four schools in some regions and 14 in others only adds to what will be a large slate of blowouts every year in round one.

The big argument when the GHSA expanded the playoff field to two teams from each region was that the first and second best teams in a given classification could be from the same region. A close loss by that supposedly second best team during the regular season should not eliminate them from a chance to play for the state championship. OK, fine.

But what did the GHSA end up doing? They eventually added two more teams from each region to the playoff mix. So what do you have? You have a watered down playoff field but a whole slew of extra games for the GHSA to collect their 12 percent tariff from. Therein lies the real story: money.

I played on a pretty good football team my senior year in high school that won our region, but got beat by 20 points in the second round of the state playoffs. Back then, that was the state semi-finals, but even so, that whipping did not feel good. I wonder how kids that now play on 2-8 teams that make the playoffs by default via a number four seed from a small region and get beat down by 60 points really feel about it. They and their coaches know what is going to happen before kickoff. If they try to gloss it over by saying they don't really care, then they should not be playing.

To be fair about it, I must report that there were a handful of close games between number one and number four seeds, and even three upsets. Blaming it on the referees, nearby Jefferson County lost to Brantley County, 21-6. Also in Class AA, Bleckley County stunned Fitzgerald 19-10. In Class AAAA, Ware County followed up their region championship victory over Statesboro with a 37-6 meltdown to Starr's Mill. Of the remaining 17 pairings between one and four seeds, seven were decided by less than 10 points.

There are two regions in Georgia, 6-A and 1-AAAA, that have only four schools that played a region football schedule. These schools knew in August before the first day of practice that they would be in the state playoffs even if they did not win a regular season game. How did they fair last weekend?

Region 6-A went 1-3 with third seed Bowdon losing to Warren County 56-24 and fourth seed Trion losing 53-8 to Lincoln County. Region 1-AAAA went 1-3 with only number one Thomas County Central squeaking by Westside of Macon 21-14. Number two Americus, playing at home, lost 49-7 to Baldwin; number three Bainbridge lost to Griffin 38-12, and number four Lee County lost 41-0 to Northside-Warner Robins.

The GHSA gave these schools a free pass into the state playoffs and they promptly got their brains beat out. What purpose did that serve other than to make money? It needlessly risked injury to kids, but why should responsible adults in positions of authority even factor that into the equation? Especially when cash is at stake.

Why not consider this? Allow the small regions with six or fewer schools to have only two playoff spots and let the large regions with 12 or more schools have six spots. There would be the same number of games overall and the average football fan might stand a chance of getting a bang for his $8. It would also keep 2-8 teams where they belong, safe at home.

It seems such a plan would be more equitable to all involved, but what do I know?

Web posted on Thursday, November 23, 2006

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