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Region 8-A: Coaches have to adjust to new playoff format
Schools will have to contend with power ranking and wildcard system for biggest sports
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At a glance
Region 8-A
Subregion A
Commerce
Lakeview Academy
Pinecrest Academy
Rabun Gap
Tallulah Falls
Towns County
Woody Gap

Subregion B
Athens Academy
Athens Christian
George Walton Academy
Hebron Christian
Prince Avenue Christian
Providence Christian

Top teams by sport
based on recent performance

Softball: Prince Avenue Christian

Volleyball: Athens Academy

Cross country: Athens Christian boys, Athens Academy and Athens Christian girls

Football: Prince Avenue Christian

Basketball: Athens Christian boys, Towns County girls

Wrestling: Commerce

Baseball: Providence Christian, Hebron Christian

Track and field: Athens Christian boys and girls

Soccer: Providence Christian boys, Athens Academy girls

Golf: Athens Academy boys and girls

Tennis: Athens Academy boys and girls

Football playoffs
Class A has a wildcard playoff format that goes into effect this season. The region champion from Region 8-A automatically earns a playoff spot. The other eight playoff spots in the 16-team bracket will be determined by a power rating system.

Lakeview Academy boys basketball coach Seth Vining knows there will only be one way to avoid a massive headache at next season’s end in regards to the playoffs: Win the Region 8-A title outright.

That’s easier said than done in a region with some premier programs, such as state finals runner-up Athens Christian, along with the addition of Providence Christian to the predominantly private school league.

“There’s a lot of good programs in this region,” said Vining, who has led Lakeview to the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons. “With the addition of Providence, it’s even stronger now.”

Towns County and Commerce remain the only two public schools in this region, which stretches from Rabun County, to South Gwinnett County and over to the Athens area.

In Class A, making the playoffs is not like the good old days anymore, when each of the eight regions sent four schools to the playoffs for the field of 32.

Now, the state’s smallest classification has implemented a playoff system with two championship brackets in football, softball, baseball and basketball, based on a power rating and wildcard selection that will leave many coaches and players unsure if they’ve made the postseason until after the final game of the regular season.

It isn’t as cut and dry as sending the teams with the best record to the postseason.

Now, the only sure way for Vining’s Lions to make the playoffs is the one spot from each region designated for the region champion. After that, they are at the mercy of a system that gives points for each game based on whether a team wins, along with the record of the opponent.

“The (Georgia High School Association) is in uncharted waters,” Vining said. “Until we go through this one or two years, it’s going to be new to everyone.”

On top of that, two separate 16-team playoff brackets will be in place: One for public schools and one for private.

This plan was passed last spring by the GHSA executive committee as a satisfactory resolution for the nearly three dozen Class A public schools, mainly in South Georgia, that threatened to leave the GHSA and form a new league based on the contention that private schools were at a huge advantage in the playoffs.

With a new complicated formula to decide who gets into the postseason, Vining and Lakeview Academy athletic director Deuce Roark are both taking a wait-and-see approach to see how it all pans out. However, they both have concerns that all deserving playoff teams might not get an opportunity to play in the postseason.

“The GHSA needed a solution to the issue,” Roark said. “We’ll probably see tweaks to the system in the future, we just don’t know what those are yet.”

The major difference between the power rating system for football is that Class A programs are awarded points for playing a larger classification program, which is not the case for basketball, softball or baseball.

Vining is concerned that one sport is given points for playing up in classification, while another is not.

Vining adds that nine of his games in the upcoming season are against a Class AA-AAAA school.

“That’s about 40 percent of our schedule right there,” Vining said.

Roark, who coaches Lakeview Academy in baseball, knows the new Region 8-A is one of the top in the state, even though most of the region is still intact from the last two-year classification cycle. Providence Christian is the defending state champion in baseball, and lost to fellow region member Hebron Christian for the 2011 state championship.

With 13 teams in the region, Roark said his program will play each opponent twice and only has two non-region games scheduled. Lakeview, Commerce and Athens Academy are also traditionally strong in baseball.

“The good thing about this region is it has a solid schedule that is set in stone,” Roark said. “The bad thing is that it will be a dogfight just to get in the playoffs.”

In football, only eight of the football programs in Region 8-A play a region schedule and are eligible for the playoffs.

And the new Region 8-A has strong programs in almost every sport. In baseball, three of the state quarterfinal teams from 2012 now reside in the region, and Prince Avenue made the state semifinals last year in football.

The Athens Christian boys and girls both won the Class A track and field state championship last season, and both of the Eagles’ cross country teams placed in the top five at the state meet last fall.

Commerce’s wrestling program has placed in the top four at the traditional state meet each of the last two seasons. Athens Academy won the girls golf state title last season, and the Spartans were the state runner-up in volleyball in 2010.

Volleyball, wrestling, swimming and diving, soccer and lacrosse will have just one championship bracket.

Regional events