Sports

March 7, 2013

Devin Golden: Addressing a substantial problem

Imagine no sub-regions. It’s easy if you try.

No divisions and complication. No one to complain or cry.

Imagine all the teams going for one title.

Imagine no regions. It isn’t hard to do.

No unbalance and unfairness. And just one champion, too.

Imagine all the teams trying to be the undisputed best.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope some day you’ll join us, and the Georgia High School Association will live as one.

Imagine no classifications. I wonder if you can.

No arguing over enrollment numbers. A state-wide system that makes me a fan.

Imagine all the teams going for the impossible dream.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope some day you’ll join us, and the Georgia High School Association will live as one.

That would be a personal nirvana. But just like John Lennon’s famous song that you absolutely should not read those words to the tune of, it’s unfortunately an impossible, idealistic dream.

Not all schools are created equal — with the same number of students and similar-sized pool to find standout athletes. That’s the reason why classifications are necessary. The GHSA needs a system to determine who reaches the postseason. The NFL has divisions. The NCAA has conferences. The GHSA has regions.

But part of the nirvana is attainable.

Sub-regions should have been tossed aside by now. When the GHSA switched a year ago from five classifications to six, the division of regions into closer geographical boxes should have become a forgotten part of Georgia’s prep sports past. But here we are stuck with an idea that has more potential as a problem causer than a problem solver. It has advantages, but they’re outweighed by disadvantages.

I imagine the main reason for sub-regions is travel, or the limiting of it. Dividing into sub-regions makes for shorter trips for road games and cuts back on travel costs, particularly gas. It also reduces the amount of time high school kids spend in a vehicle, traveling when they could be doing other things more associated to being a teenager.

The short response is “That’s part of sports.” Suck it up. Sometimes you have to travel long distances.

Plus, the biggest disadvantage makes more of an impact than the best advantage (reduced travel costs). Sub-regions provide an opportunity for a region — whatever the sport may be — to not be represented in the state playoffs by its best, most talented team. In football, each sub-divided region has sub-region “play-in” games where the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds from each sub-region play one another to see who joins the sub-region champions in the state playoffs. This format ignores the possibility that a region’s best four teams could all come from the same sub-region.

While a little different, the scenario’s gist recently hit home — this year’s Region 7-4A boys soccer controversy, where the idea of a sub-region could have held one of the three best teams back.

Last season, the boys teams at Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield each made their respective classification’s state quarterfinals. The Catamounts and Raiders were two of the best eight teams in Class 3A. The Bruins were one of the best eight in Class 4A. Add those two classes up and that means those three teams made up almost 20 percent of the two classifications’ quarterfinals field.

After reclassification, the round-robin rivalry was grouped together in the same region. Dalton and Southeast brought back nine starters. Northwest returned eight. That’s pretty much as good as any powerhouse could ask for.

They entered the 2013 season as arguably the three best in the region. In fact, it might be tough for the region’s other eight teams to stay within five goals (this past Friday, those three teams beat Cass, LaFayette and Ridgeland by a combined score of 29-0). But with a little manipulation of the sub-region dynamic, being the best three in talent and record wouldn’t matter.

Sub-region 7B includes the six “northern schools” — Dalton, Heritage-Catoosa, LaFayette, Northwest, Ridgeland and Southeast — Region 7-4A. The southern sub-region, 7A, includes Cass, Cedartown, Gilmer, Pickens and River Ridge.

Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said at least one coach from the southern sub-region wanted the top two teams from each sub-region clinching state playoff berths. This scenario guarantees at least Dalton, Northwest or Southeast wouldn’t make the state bracket, even if they were the region’s three best teams (which they are).

“Why would they do that?” Kettenring rhetorically asked. “Well, they know what we have up north.”

He said the northern schools proposed getting rid of the sub-regions in favor of an undivided region with each team playing one another one or two times. That plan was approved by the region’s coaches, then nixed days later.

“We knew there would be this fight between north and south,” Kettenring said. “We came in and said, ‘Look, let’s take a straight vote.’ They were arguing about expense and gas. ... We kept saying, ‘We want the best four teams to go to state. How do we get the best four? Play a straight region schedule.’ We voted and had a majority. We said, ‘Fine, straight region.’

“Two weeks later the principals came back and said, ‘No.’ That’s just never happened before.”

The teams settled on the region determining its champion and four state berths via an eight-team region tournament. The top four teams from each sub-region make the region tourney field, and the four in the semifinals are guaranteed a trip to the statewide postseason.

A travesty was avoided, but a problem still exists. And the next step toward a nirvana is to get rid of the problem.

Kettenring said it perfectly. The foolproof way to determine a region’s four best teams is to put them all in one hat, shake it up and see how everyone compares with everyone else.

But that’s way too fair, and not watered down enough.

The dreamer weeps.

Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen, and he thinks the band Nirvana was just as overrated as sub-regions. You can write to him at devingolden@daltoncitizen.com.

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