Six classification plan
Region 8-AAAA Upper
Region 8-AAAA Lower
Region 8-AAA Upper
Region 8-AAA Lower
Region 5-AA Upper
St. Pius X
Region 5-AA Lower
Region 7-AA Upper
Region 7-AA Lower
Region 8-AA Upper
Region 8-AA Lower
Region 8-A Upper
Region 8-A Lower
Rabun Gap Nacoochee
Notes about these plans:
The reclassifications shown here are based on 2009 full-time equivalent count for students in grades 9-11 provided by the Department of Education. In determining the final reclassifications, the GHSA will use 2011 FTE counts. Changes will be effective in the 2012-13 school year.
Monday could be monumental for the Georgia High School Association.
The GHSA executive committee will meet at 9 a.m. at the Marriott Macon City Center to discuss proposals for a change in the state's classification system.
The current format, which has been in place since 2000, divides schools based on enrollment into five divisions, or classifications. This presents a problem for the smallest schools in Class AAAAA, the state's largest tier, which are often greatly outnumbered by the biggest schools in the classification. Other schools, mainly in the south, must travel long distances to compete against similar-size schools in their region.
Two of the proposals up for consideration would mean drastic change for schools across the state, including many in northeast Georgia.
One plan has the state dividing into six classifications to address the student population disparity in Class AAAAA. Another, the 4/8 proposal, splits the state into four classifications that branch out to eight for the playoffs, producing eight state champions.
That plan aims to reduce travel for schools in the more sparsely populated south.
A third proposal keeps five classifications, with the possibility of tweaking the current
Any changes agreed upon by the committee would take effect in the 2012-13 school year and would be based on 2011 Full-Time Equivalent enrollment counts for grades 9-11. Previously, FTE counts for grades 9-12 were used to determine reclassification.
Regarding the likelihood of any of the proposals being accepted, GHSA officials aren't saying much.
"It's premature to say which direction we're leaning toward," said GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin. "Ideas will be discussed and debated, and I wouldn't be surprised if we look at a couple of different options. This might not get resolved (Monday), because there's a lot of work ahead, I'm afraid."
The six-classification plan appears to be the favorite among metro-Atlanta schools, where the majority of Class AAAAA schools are located, and where the lower-end schools in AAAAA are often outnumbered by 1,000 students or more. In Region 8-AAAAA, for example, Archer, with a 2009 FTE of 1,867, is competing with Brookwood, which has the state's highest FTE at 3,433.5.
The six-classification plan would change the current alignment of area schools dramatically. Out of the 423 schools, the top 15 percent would go to Class AAAAAA, another 15 percent to AAAAA, 16 percent each to AAAA, AAA and AA, and lowest 22 percent in A. Each classification will still have eight regions.
Both the six-classification and 4/8 proposals contain projections of new alignments based on the 2009 FTE counts for each school, grades 9-11. The Times has obtained copies of both proposals with the hypothetical region and classification assignments, which are subject to change based on the 2011 FTE counts.
According to the reclassification committee's AAAAAA proposal, the most extreme case of dislocation for an area school involves Habersham Central. Currently in Class AAAA, the Mount Airy school is projected to be bumped to the top classification, AAAAAA, and, along with Winder-Barrow, would be the only non-Gwinnett County schools in Region 7. Also in the proposed region are Collins Hill, Duluth, Mill Creek, Mountain View, North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge and Meadowcreek.
Meadowcreek, the furthest school from Habersham Central, is a two-hour drive for the Raiders.
"Travel will be an issue no matter what region we're in," Raiders football coach Stuart Cunningham said. "We're the only big school in northeast Georgia and where we are, geographically, I don't see that changing.
"I guess we'll go with whatever is decided on and play whoever we have to, but I will lobby for our school to be where it needs to be. If we have to challenge something that might not be good for our kids, that's what I'll do."
As for the remaining area schools, Flowery Branch and Gainesville would move up to Class AAAAA and play in Region 7 with Heritage-Conyers, Apalachee, Cedar Shoals, Clarke Central and Salem.
Chestatee, Johnson and Lumpkin County would play in 8-AAAA.
Dawson County, West Hall, White County, North Hall, Buford and East Hall would move to Region 7-AAA.
Jefferson, Banks County and Union County would compete in 8-AA.
Commerce, Towns County, Lakeview Academy and Riverside Military would move to 8-A.
"The idea is to have six classifications balanced as much as possible," said reclassification committee member David Hunter, architect of the six-classification plan. "We're just trying to make a little bit of a change as the (student population) numbers and number of schools go up."
East Hall football coach Bryan Gray supports the six-classification plan.
"I'll take it," the Vikings coach said. "We've already played half the teams in (the proposed) region, and we'd welcome the Buford gate. As long as it's fair to everyone involved, that's all I care about."
Gainesville football coach Bruce Miller was taken aback that the Red Elephants, currently in Region 7-AAA, might play in AAAAA.
"I didn't know we were that big," Miller said. "It's definitely interesting, but boy does that take us out of some natural rivalries, other than Flowery Branch. You look toward those big rivalry games and the gates they bring."
Gainesville and Flowery Branch would play in a seven-team region under the proposal, meaning they could schedule four non-region games.
Both Miller and Flowery Branch football coach Lee Shaw said they'd prefer to keep the current five-classification system in place.
"I don't really mind the current setup," said Shaw, despite his Falcons being the only Hall County school in 8-AAAA and having to travel more than 30 miles on average to compete. "I'm more of a traditionalist, and believe in a 10-game region schedule to determine the top four teams in the region (to advance to the state playoffs). That's the fairest way. We're traveling now, but who's to say if this thing works out in a different scenario, we'd be traveling still and to who knows where?"
Traveling is the issue for reclassification committee member Earl Etheridge, who designed what's known as the 4/8 plan. He resides in Savannah and hears first-hand from the south Georgia schools that spend hours commuting around the state to compete.
"The goal is to reduce time out of class as much as possible and to be able to afford to (travel to) play," Etheridge said. "That yellow bus doesn't know the difference in miles, but when you go to gas up, you see the difference. This is an opportunity for people to do something different than what we've done traditionally.
"We've been doing the same thing over and over. Maybe we need to do something differently."
In each of the four classifications, teams, based on FTE count, would be placed in either an "Upper" or "Lower" tier. Upper and lower tier schools from each region would play each other during the regular season, then split into tiers for the state playoffs. Only games played against schools in the same tier would count toward playoff eligibility, meaning the lower tier can play the upper tier with no consequence.
The 4/8 proposal places Habersham Central in 8-AAAA's lower tier with Heritage-Conyers, Shiloh and Winder-Barrow, based on the 2009 FTE counts.
"From our standpoint, (the 4/8 plan) is more reasonable for us," Cunningham said. "Again, travel is always going to be an issue for us, but this sounds like more of an opportunity to play schools around us."
However, there are major glitches in the current 4/8 proposal that would have to be worked out by the GHSA if it were to pass. For example, the upper tier of 3-AAAA and the lower tier of 2-A have just two schools. Do both schools automatically qualify for the playoffs? Which one doesn't and if so, what other region gets that spot?
Also, the plan wouldn't necessarily cut down travel for all schools.
"The 4/8 plan has too many question marks to be addressed before the weekend," said Buford coach Dexter Wood, who is on the GHSA executive committee. "I couldn't support that one less."
Wood said he'd consider tweaking the present five-classification system.
"I would prefer that," Wood said, "and I think tweaking it would work. But my main priority is to support Region 6-AA."