The time for the GHSA to make a change is coming.
The association’s affiliation with the Georgia Dome and that stadium hosting the GHSA’s football state title games has run its course. There’s a better way, at least for the teams and their fans.
The Georgia Dome has been good to the GHSA, first hosting the semifinals and then more recently the championship games. But the Georgia Dome will be going away as the Atlanta Falcons build a new stadium near the Georgia Dome’s site.
The easy thing to do would be for the GHSA to just switch the championship games to the new stadium. But that wouldn’t be the right thing to do.
It’s time for the GHSA to try something new: neutral sites throughout the state for the championship games. And there are plenty of those stadiums to make that a viable option now.
That starts right here in Macon with Mercer University Stadium, which has hosted the GISA championship games the past two years and hosted last week’s Northside-Allatoona GHSA Class AAAAA semifinal game. It’s a terrific facility, and it’s the perfect fit for a high school championship game.
But it’s not the only quality stadium that could be used. Fort Valley State has a newish stadium, as does Albany State, and both could be used if needed for the smaller classes. Georgia Southern has upgraded its stadium, and if there were two southeast Georgia teams that needed to use that facility, that would make sense. West Georgia could be the destination if there were two teams from that part of the state.
There are also usable stadiums pretty much in every part of the state: Kennesaw State has a facility that could be used for smaller classification games in Atlanta, and Valdosta has two with Bazemore-Hyder Stadium or Martin Stadium, while Augusta, Columbus and Savannah all have stadiums that would work.
Just look at this week’s championship games, especially the ones involving Middle Georgia teams.
Hawkinsville and Irwin County will face off at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Georgia Dome, while Washington County will play Calhoun at 4:30 p.m., and Northside will take on Mays at 8 p.m. (there are four more games Saturday, by the way). Mercer’s stadium could be used for any of those games (or all three), or any of the other stadiums close to the teams involved could be used as a neutral site. Just think about how perfect Mercer’s stadium would be for the fan bases at Irwin County and Hawkinsville to fill for a title game. It’s easy to get to for both teams, and it would be just about the right size for a game like that.
Yes, playing at the Georgia Dome is special for the players and the fans, but it also lacks any kind of atmosphere for these games. Even for the biggest classes, the cavernous Georgia Dome sucks the character out of the contest, and a big part of high school football is the pageantry and the excitement of the crowd, the fans, the cheerleaders and the bands. That’s lost at the Georgia Dome, and those games would be a better fit at some of the smaller (while still big enough) stadiums around the state.
This probably won’t happen, but something has to change. Maybe the first step toward this would be to put the semifinal games at these neutral sites. That would be a good test run.
Despite objections from fans and coaches around the state, especially in south Georgia, playing the championship games at a central location in Atlanta makes a lot of sense for the GHSA. It’s easier than having the games spread across the state, and it fits well with what GPB wants to accomplish.
But that doesn’t it make it the right thing to do. There are better answers out there for the teams and their fans.
And that should be the focus.
Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org