This time of the season all the talk is about the playoffs. Who’s in, and who’s out? In Region 7-AAA, we’re pretty close to knowing who is going to the playoffs. North Hall (9-0), Flowery Branch (8-1) and Gainesville (7-3) are all in. White County and Chestatee are battling for the last spot. Most people can agree that it’s tough to earn a playoff spot in our region here at home.
So once the playoffs begin, is there parity in all the No. 1 teams across the state? And how close in terms of talent are the schools earning No. 4 spots?
After doing some in-depth research, I can assure you that the answer lies exclusively in what region a team plays in around the state.
Some regions across the state have so many teams that one loss in region can have a team on the playoff bubble. That’s the case in Region 5-AAA, which matches up against Region 7-AAA in the first round.
Region 8-AAAA is one of the more curious playoff set-ups. Habersham Central (8-1, 6-0) must play Heritage (3-6, 1-4) in a play-in game on Friday in Mount Airy to earn a playoff spot. The Raiders shouldn’t have any trouble with this game, but it leaves me wondering what Habersham Central has left to prove that they are worthy of the postseason.
However, through studying the region alignments by the GHSA, it looks like some shuffling of schools and classifications would do some good. Some teams can get in the playoffs just by flashing a smile.
Remember, all the GHSA requires is a region have a system set in house to determine the top four teams in the region. The fundamental flaw with that framework is that not every region has four teams competent of playing in the playoffs.
Here’s some great examples of how out of control the state’s logic is.
The best example I could find is in Region 1-AAAA, which is home to Thomas County Central, Bainbridge, Americus-Sumter and Lee County. You see where I’m going here. There’s only four teams in 1-AAAA. So, congratulations Lee County, pack your bags along with your 1-8 record: you’re going to the playoffs!
And Lee County draws Region 3-AAAA’s Ware County (7-2, 7-1)/Statesboro (7-2, 6-2) winner in the first round of the playoffs.
The Gators that have legitimately earned a playoff spot five-straight years and even played in the state semifinals in the Dome in 2005. And Statesboro won the state title in 2005.
To put that example into context, 10 of the 11 teams in Region 7-AAA have better overall records than Lee County. Have fun with that playoff game Lee County Trojans!
We would all hope that one region alignment was the only mistake of that sort made possible by the GHSA. And that would be a mistake.
Another shining example is Region 3-A down in South Georgia, which only has seven teams. The No. 4 seed headed for the playoffs is probably going to be Claxton (2-8, 2-4), which has a tie-breaker advantage over Jenkins County. Claxton was bad in region play this season, and even worse out of region this season. It lost to Class AA Tattnall County (3-6) by a 30-0 score early in the season.
So as Claxton heads to the playoffs it is going to draw a lopsided matchup against Region 1-A champions Clinch County (7-2, 7-0) in the first round of the playoffs.
Another example, of this lack of playoff parity across the state is Region 1-AAA where Worth County (4-5, 2-2) has the inside track to the final playoff spot.
East Laurens, Toombs County and Bleckley County could all finish with 5-5 records in Region 4-AA and one of these schools is going to qualify for the playoffs.
And look at the numbers in Region 1-AAAAA. This region is home to some of the most revered programs in the state (Valdosta, Lowndes, Tift County, Warner Robins and Houston County. Yet, these powerhouses are only 7-6 against lowered classified opponents in the state. So how well with the playoff qualifiers be expected to fare against the AAAAAA playoff qualifiers from places like Gwinnett or Cobb County?
These are just some fun talking points to bat around now that the playoffs are about to begin. It just proves that parity around the state is spotty at best.