High School Sports

GHSA leaves its options open for future of basketball championships

Veterans senior demonstrates the difficulty of playing on non-regulation courts

Veterans senior Anna Nicholson demonstrates the difference one foot makes when shooting and rebounding. The Veterans girls basketball team was one of the many teams affected by the GHSA's decision to allow the state championships to be played with
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Veterans senior Anna Nicholson demonstrates the difference one foot makes when shooting and rebounding. The Veterans girls basketball team was one of the many teams affected by the GHSA's decision to allow the state championships to be played with

The games end, everybody involved takes a breath, and soon enough, the GHSA and officials from the Macon Coliseum go through notes and review the recent state basketball finals.

And a month or so later, they gather together and talk about how things went.

That's the routine. Except for this year.

The week after the state finals has been unlike any other week after the state finals as coaches, fans, players and politicians react to the championships being played with the baskets being located a foot away from where they should have been.

GHSA executive director Gary Phillips could only chuckle wearily when asked if he had any idea how many emails and phone calls he has received.

"Man, I have no idea," he said Friday. "I wouldn't even try to guess. There have been a number of things, yes. We completely understand. Nobody in their wildest dreams would have imagined anything like this."

There is a faction that wants some sort of action immediately, although the process involved in the tournament review and planning for next year's event remains basically the same. Phillips said Friday that the meeting with Coliseum officials won't be until April or May, since the spring is the busiest sports season with baseball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls golf, boys and girls tennis and boys and girls track and field.

Phillips said he and associate director Ernie Yarbrough take notes, and everything they have -- from the goals to facility improvements to security to cell phone reception in the building, etc. -- will be addressed in that meeting.

The GHSA also will prepare for its regular spring executive committee meeting, and that agenda includes a major adjustment for the 2016-17 school year: yet another classification. The GHSA will have seven classifications and eight championships in team sports, adding Class 7A and continuing with a public and private school playoff split in Class A.

So the organization has to come up with a championship plan and schedule for every sport, thanks to that seventh class.

The basketball tournament is already a more difficult logistical issue than most sports, and the additional class only adds to the planning. What that means for the tournament at the Coliseum is unknown. Lost in much of the emotional reaction to the mistakes made last week is what the GHSA faces with the basketball tournament: a lack of options.

The tournament isn't a huge financial windfall for the host, and the state has a mix of municipal facilities, like the Coliseum, but some have no basketball configuration. Others, the ones mentioned the most, are substantially more expensive than the Coliseum and have scheduling issues with when the tournament is played.

And few college facilities in the state are not big enough to host all the finals.

"The college campuses work good for the sectional semifinal settings that we have," Phillips said. "The schools are more spread out. The fans' travel to those sites is different than the finals."

Last week's controversy notwithstanding, the GHSA has to schedule 16 championship games, amid the desire from Atlanta-area schools to have everything in Atlanta while other schools around the state want nothing held in Atlanta. The goal situation appears to have hurt Macon's standing with those non-Atlanta schools.

But, as Phillips and Yarbrough note, the basketball plan is limited. There are only six facilities in the state that have a basketball configuration and can hold at least 8,000, about an unofficial minimum.

Among the possible schedule options next year are four days of four games or four games on Thursday and six on Friday and Saturday.

"We felt like the six games on Saturday is an absolute marathon in the first place," Phillips said. "There's a lot of things that are involved in that as to what our choices are."

The second plan means starting before noon, ostensibly eliminating that Friday as any kind of school day for four or six teams and their student fans, no matter where the tournament is.

A major consideration for scheduling and location is the association's connection with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Splitting the locations would have an impact on the network's ability to broadcast every championship game. The tournament was split for several years, with Class AAAAAA and AAAAA at the arena in Duluth, formerly known as the Arena at Gwinnett Center and now the Infinite Energy Arena, and the remaining classes in Macon.

But again, scheduling by the Gwinnett arena pushed basketball out with no clarity on when it could return. The GHSA is trying to alternate state wrestling with Gwinnett and Macon. Adding basketball to the equation appears to be a goal but a doubtful one, since the tournament field has grown, and getting enough dates at Gwinnett is already a problem.

"We have a large enough problem with certain venues, being there for two to three days," Phillips said. "Now we're talking about four days. That begins to eliminate possibilities."

Because of the general facilities situation, there is no bidding process involved. The GHSA has chosen Macon, where attendance has never been a problem, even with assorted complaints from fans, administrators and coaches.

Things won't be quiet for the GHSA for a while, thanks to the misaligned goals and the reaction, which inspired more vitriol than the mistake, which was the Coliseum's mistake, itself. The GHSA's initial statement noted that changing the goals would take too long and that the "staff watched the games closely and did not see any appreciable effect on the shooting or the play" and that some teams "shot extremely well from both the floor and the free-throw line."

Media outlets reported shooting numbers, and the reactions of coaches disagreeing with that analysis, noting that outside shooting teams would be more affected than transition teams. Others noticed how many turnovers than usual came on the baseline on rebounds and other plays. Considering the number of close games, and how a normal shooting night rather than a subpar night because of the goals can potentially change the flow and momentum of a game, the reaction to the GHSA's statement has been strong.

A petition with change.org was filed requesting state government intervention. There has also been some mobilization on the part of basketball coaches.

Jesse McMillan, who played at Mercer in the late 1990s, is the boys head coach at Norcross. He tweeted Wednesday of "baby steps (Wednesday) toward GHSA Information Meeting w/coaches!"

He sent a letter Monday to request an informational meeting in Atlanta to "explain to HS basketball coaches the decision-making process and factors for" playoff sites, brackets, power rankings and rule changes."

Phillips had the email and said the association would have to get through the school year before setting up any such meeting. The GHSA issued a statement from Phillips on Friday reiterating that the results from the tournament will stand.

"We offer our sincerest apologies to the players, coaches, and fans of all involved teams," Phillips said in the statement. "We consulted with the GHSA Board of Trustees and considered all options and alternatives. We concluded that the only reasonable resolution is to allow the games to stand as they were played and competed. We are conducting a thorough review of the current policies that should have prevented this and will be implementing new procedures to ensure that this never happens again."

Phillips said that nothing is settled, no door open or closed, for next year's tournament, including how the quarterfinals and semifinals would go. This year, they were played at mostly college arenas throughout the state to mostly good reviews.

That Macon-Bibb County is looking into perhaps changing the management of the Coliseum has no current impact one way or another at this point.

"We're going to explore all of our options," Phillips said. "We feel like we can't leave -- at this point, we would not do this ordinarily, but this is critical -- we're not going to leave any stone unturned. We're going to do what we need to do to ensure we're never and the schools are never in this situation again."

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