Calhoun-Peach fallout: GHSA adds 7th official for football playoffs

There won’t be instant replay in Georgia high school football next season, but the controversial Peach County-Calhoun state championship game has led to one significant rule change – the addition of a seventh on-field official for the playoffs.

The GHSA approved the measure this week at its spring executive committee meeting in Macon. The association also announced changes in the way it will select playoff officials.

The seventh official – the back judge – will be positioned behind the defense. A back judge would have been in position to assist in the Class AAA final last year, when it was ruled by a trailing side judge that a Peach County receiver failed to catch a fourth-down pass that could’ve given his team a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Calhoun got possession and held on to win 10-6.

A video replay, versions of which went viral on social media, revealed that the player did catch the ball. Other video showed that the receiver went out of bounds before making the catch, which might’ve nullified the reception if called, but regardless, the net result was an outcry among fans and school officials to improve officiating in big games.

A state representative from Peach County’s district introduced a long-shot bill that would require the GHSA to mandate instant replay to review calls in all games, but the GHSA believes a seventh on-field official is a more practical and economical fix.

The NFL employs seven on-field officials, and most college conferences have gone to eight, but the National Federation of State High School Associations sets no minimum, leaving that decision to each state. Some states operate with as few as four. Five and six are the norm. The GHSA has used six for more than 20 years and will continue with six until the playoffs.

‘’The more eyes out there, the better,’’ GHSA associate director Tommy Whittle said. ‘’With six, if you put two deep judges on the sidelines, you’re weaker in the middle. With these spread offenses sending three deep, the umpire has to have his head on a swivel in the middle of the field. That’s really tough to do. We’ve got good officials. We’ve just got to tweak it a little to get everybody in the right spot.’’

The GHSA will do camps this summer on seven-man mechanics. It has experimented with an optional seventh official in the past unofficially, but schools have been reluctant to take on the added expense. An on-field official is paid $150 per game in the playoffs. The GHSA will off-set the cost of the seventh official by reducing the number on the chain crew to three from four. Chain crew members get $75 per playoff game.

“One call in the playoffs may be worth the [extra] $75,’’ Whittle said. ‘’The main thing is to be as good as we can for playoffs. The players and coaches deserve it.’’

The total cost for 232 playoff games will come to $17,400. Whittle said there aren’t enough trained officials to have seven in the regular season, when there are as many as 175 games per week.

Whittle also talked Monday at the executive committee meeting about a new way to select playoff officials. Historically, the GHSA has chosen the highest-rated crews from its officials associations, but there were complaints that outstanding individual officials on weaker crews were excluded from bigger playoff games.

So beginning two years ago, the GHSA began taking the highest-rated individual officials and formed what some called all-star regional crews. But that method came under fire last season, again sparked by the Calhoun-Peach County game, when it was argued that all-star crews might lack the familiarity or chemistry to negotiate or overrule calls.

Beginning next season, the GHSA will continue to pick highly rated individual officials but will form playoff crews earlier and let them work regular-season games so they have more time to mesh.

‘’They will be a regular-season crew by the time they get to the finals,’’ Whittle said.