High School Sports

Northside opts for safety, fairness over tradition

A lot of Northside fans wanted Friday’s GHSA Class AAAAA semifinal against Allatoona to be played at McConnell-Talbert Stadium, never mind how bad field conditions might be.

Sure, Northside won the right to host the semifinal by virtue of being on the lucky end of a coin flip. But head coach Kevin Kinsler didn’t want any of his players to blow out a knee or rip up an ankle by catching a bad edge on a field that had not improved following a week’s rest, so he and the Northside administration did the prudent thing by moving the game to Mercer University Stadium.

In the long term, this has to stoke serious discussions about installing some sort of artificial surface, FieldTurf or something similar, at McConnell-Talbert. A facility can’t host as many teams as McConnell-Talbert does and have a grass surface hold up for 12 weeks of regular-season play and four weeks of playoff action. Sure, Houston County and Veterans will soon share a stadium of their own thanks to a sales tax measure, but even with just Northside and Warner Robins in McConnell-Talbert, the need appears to be there for artificial turf.

The short-term consequences of Northside’s move, however, are causing a bit of heartburn for some fans. Northside won the toss, they figure, so the Eagles should enjoy a home-field advantage, right? And shouldn’t that home-field advantage include playing on grass, just like Northside does during the regular season?

That’s where logistics come in. And, in this case, Northside was more or less tied into a facility with artificial turf.

The GHSA requires host stadiums in Class AAAAA to have at least 4,000 seats for the semifinals, with a bleacher seat being measured as 24 inches wide. That eliminates a lot of smaller schools’ stadiums, although Peach County was able to accommodate Northside last week.

Northside wanted someplace bigger to play for the semifinals, something more along the lines of McConnell-Talbert and its capacity of nearly 8,000.

The choices were few. In theory, Fort Valley State’s Wildcat Stadium, with its listed 10,000-seat capacity, would have worked. So, too, would have Macon’s Henderson Stadium and Ed DeFore Sports Complex, although both of those stadiums are in need of some maintenance and touching up. But Northside chose the nicest place available in Middle Georgia, Mercer University Stadium, which has held crowds of 12,000 or more for games in the two seasons that it has been open.

Sure, the playing surface suits Allatoona more, since Allatoona plays on artificial turf during the regular season. But the winner of this game will be playing on the Georgia Dome’s turf next week, so that detail shouldn’t matter.

Friday’s game won’t be a true neutral site contest. Northside is still the host team, and the Eagles will have all the responsibilities and benefits involved with hosting a game. But this game could serve as a trial balloon of sorts should the GHSA want to consider moving all semifinal games to neutral sites while leaving the championship games at the Georgia Dome.

Sure, the traditionalists will bemoan the magic that small-town crowds bring to the packed-out local stadium on a Friday night in December. They still complain about moving championship games to the Georgia Dome.

But is it really fair to determine home-field advantage, something that means a lot in football, to a coin flip? And shouldn’t head coaches and athletics directors be more focused on the game itself rather than the logistics of crowd and facility management?

Northside will soon find out.

Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or rseibel@macon.com