I’d really like to hear from the fans as to where they stand on this region play-in format for high school football in Region 8-AAA and 8-AA now that we’re almost done with the regular season. Personally, I still can’t decide where I come down on the issue.
On one hand, it looks like a stroke of brilliance by coaches to set up a system with a region title game, like in Region 8-AAA with Gainesville facing White County for all the marbles Friday.
Fans from schools all over Northeast Georgia are going to be sizing up this matchup the rest of the week, even though it seems to me like the Red Elephants have the edge.
The region play-in games’ biggest selling point was to have a third team from each subregion have the chance to slip into the postseason, which works out great for Johnson and Lumpkin County in Region 8-AAA, and Hart County and Dawson County in 8-AA.
But the downfalls of a region play-in format are just as obvious.
First of all, it looks like a weird concoction of matchups for playoff spots, none more glaring than 2-7 Johnson (the No. 3 seed from 8-AAA South) visiting 7-2 Stephens County (No. 2 from the North subregion) Friday in Toccoa for a playoff spot. The Knights are going to be forced to try to shut down Indians sophomore running back Chaz Thornton, who I rank as one of the Top 10 high school football players I’ve ever seen play, after traveling to Toccoa for last Friday’s game against North Hall.
Just think, a two-win Johnson team is playing for a spot in the playoffs with the same region play-in seeding as a six-win Lumpkin County squad (which plays host to Monroe Area) on the other side of 8-AAA. Something doesn’t seem right about that.
Another negative about this region play-in formula that I haven’t heard mentioned is that it really isn’t fan friendly. By that, I mean only the die-hard high school football fans are going to know which team their school plays the final week of the regular season. Some fans probably aren’t even aware that if you’re a No. 2 seed in the subregion, it doesn’t automatically guarantee a playoff spot like the old playoff system did.
Some fans probably think if their school is out of the playoff chase, then they don’t play on the final week of the regular season. More importantly, if they are out of the playoff race, why do they have to play?
In Region 8-AAAA, they couldn’t ask for a better end to the regular season. Flowery Branch and Clarke Central (both 9-0) will face off Friday in South Hall for the region title. No fancy playoff system here, they just take the top four teams based on the merit of the regular season and award those teams a playoff spot. Seems like common sense to me.
And, oh yeah, good luck to the Falcons as they go for an undefeated regular season and the school’s first region title. If they beat the Gladiators, a 2009 Class AAAA state finalist, they’ve earned it.
But the draw of a true region title game in Region 8-AAA is pretty alluring. I’m going to try to beat the traffic through Cleveland on Friday because I know fans of all schools are going to want to be a part of the late fall atmosphere that a winner-take-all championship game creates. Of course, there’s no shame for the loser of this game, since they’ll automatically earn the region’s No. 2 playoff seed and first round playoff game at home.
But after the way Gainesville and White County have played this season, neither wants to end the regular season on a down note.
With both sides stated, let me know what you think about the region play-in format. I’m still on the fence.
Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.