You hear it all the time when you play Buford or Gainesville: “I just hope no one gets hurt.”
But is that what it’s going to take for the Georgia High School Association to change its classification system? Anyone who follows high school football knows that Buford (commonly called the University of Buford) and Gainesville play on a higher level than other schools in their region. Yet these two powerhouse city schools are still allowed to compete with county schools that are at a distinct and obvious disadvantage.
Not to take anything away from the Buford or Gainesville football programs that consistently produce (or at least display) phenomenal athletes and superior teams. But who really benefits from this ludicrous set-up? So far this year, Buford has won seven games against county schools by a combined score of 364-31. But does Buford really feel like it has accomplished something when it defeats a team that has 30 (or 40-50) fewer players and whose players are 50 (or 60-70) pounds lighter and 6 (or 7-8) inches shorter?
The GHSA makes the rules, and the GHSA should change the rules that create disparity between city and county programs. Athletically prominent city schools rely on two means to acquire the upper-echelon athletes needed to maintain their supremacy: they transfer in, or they pay tuition. Many players on city teams simply move to the district, but always in the spring, so they are eligible to play the following year. There is no penalty for transferring, and this happens frequently (even in county schools, to a much lesser degree) with blue-chip athletes in pursuit of college scholarships looking to showcase their talent at well-known schools.
Secondly, athletes living outside city school districts pay tuition (much less than private school rates) to attend.
Athletes in county schools, however, don’t have this option; they must live in their school’s district. Talk about a different set of rules! Nevertheless, the GHSA continues to lump city, private, and county schools together.
The result of these rules, which allow athletes to change schools without penalty, is that programs like Buford and Gainesville are continually replenished with exceptional athletes who might otherwise remain at their original schools. How can any school expect to compete with Buford, who this year alone boasts of 18 Division I prospects?
Playing them is like playing a young college team, and many opposing players suffer concussions and injuries solely because of the size differential. This may sound exaggerated, but it’s not; just go to a game and look.
The GHSA needs to be proactive and level the playing field like it did in Single-A play before coaches are forced to take justifiable actions to protect their players. Implementing a one-year, mandatory migration rule so transfer athletes lose a year’s eligibility, or factoring in an enrollment multiplier, or categorizing city and private schools apart from county schools are all possibilities. But something must be done before someone’s child gets permanently injured or killed while playing in a high school game against a pseudo-college team.