High School Sports

GHSA adds Big 44 class, expands Class A playoffs

More high school sports teams in Georgia will get to experience the postseason, thanks to bylaw changes made Monday by the Georgia High School Association executive committee.

The committee adopted a sweeping reclassification plan at its fall meeting, adding a classification for the state’s largest schools and expanding the playoffs in its smallest class. The changes will take effect for the 2016-17 school year.

“All we heard from our membership was, ‘We want more teams in the playoffs,’” said former Brookwood football head coach Dave Hunter, the Region 8-AAAAAA representative from Gwinnett County who presented the plan to the executive committee alongside Region 3-AAAAA representative Earl Etheridge of Savannah. “The only solution to that is to add the classification. We also heard from many of our legislators that they wanted to balance the classifications. The only way to solve that is to add the classification.”

In a 47-10 vote at the Macon Marriott City Center, the GHSA executive committee added a class for the state’s largest schools. Tentatively called the Big 44, the class will take in roughly the largest 10 percent of the schools in the state.

The Big 44 effectively will be Class AAAAAAA, although names haven’t been finalized for the classifications heading into next year’s realignment.

Class AA to Class AAAAAA will now have roughly 60 schools in each classification, down from the current average of 70. Class A, with its public-private split, will remain roughly the same in terms of membership.

As a result, there will be as many as eight championships contested in a single sport, up from a maximum of seven. Classification and region assignments will be made at a called meeting in January, based upon enrollment figures that should be available in early October.

No Middle Georgia schools are expected to be assigned to the Big 44.

“We’ve have some proposals about that in the past about classification of those really big schools, we’ve had proposals about what the number of schools should be -- is it 50, is it 32?” GHSA executive director Gary Phillips said. “From our perspective in the office, what we call it is ‘capping it off at the top and capping it off at the bottom.’ Then we can deal with schools more efficiently in the middle, regardless of what the number of classifications are.”

Because some regions will have fewer than five schools, a rule was included that will extend -- on a limited basis -- the use of power ratings to every classification.

In regions with four or fewer schools, all but one team automatically will qualify for the playoffs. The remaining spot that would normally go to that region will be determined by the same power rating formula used by Class A.

There will be a structural change in the Class A playoffs in sports where public and private schools are split. The field will be increased from 16 to 24 in each bracket, eliminating the open week in the playoffs for football, softball, basketball, baseball and tennis.

With the changes, approximately 75 percent of Class A private schools will make the football playoffs, up from roughly half currently.

Among Class A public schools, a little more than 60 percent will qualify in football, up from a little more than 40 percent.

“Certain elements of the committee argued that it was a dilution of the playoffs,” Phillips said. “One of the other members spoke at length at what the opportunity to be in the playoffs would do for his school. All these schools are desperate to get kids to play. They’re looking for incentives, with a large incentive being more opportunities to be in the playoffs.”

For some classifications, an out-of-zone enrollment provision was added.

Enrollment boundaries were defined for schools in Class AA to Class AAAAA as a school’s entire county. Should a school have 3 percent or more of its enrollment made up of out-of-county students, it will be placed in a higher classification. Such move-ups can be appealed.

Class A schools aren’t included in the enrollment boundary provision because of the public-private split. Class AAAAAA schools won’t be forced to move up to the Big 44.

“The enrollment zone as the entire county came after meeting with the legislative overview committee (of the Georgia Legislature),” Phillips said. “They had some concerns about narrow districts, very confined districts, and there was not a way to enlarge the students we were looking at and find a way to treat all the entities -- public schools, private schools, city schools, charter schools -- try to treat them all as equally as we could.

“The suggestion that came about was, ‘OK, let’s just not charge them for every student, but just those outside the county.’ It came out of a meeting that came about 10 days ago.”

Plans are in the works to make reclassification a four-year cycle. A vote for that change passed Monday, but it will have to pass again at the next GHSA executive committee meeting in April since it would amend the governing body’s constitution.