GHSA votes to add 7th classification, formula for city/private schools

The Georgia High School Association on Monday added a seventh classification and adopted a formula that could move several private and city schools into higher classes.

The new reclassification framework, which would go into effect for the 2016-17 academic year, passed 47-10 at the GHSA’s executive committee meeting in Macon.

The largest classification, which is being called the Big 44, will comprise schools in the top 10 percent of enrollment, or about 44 schools.

Currently, the largest class (now called AAAAAA) holds 64 schools, with the largest (Mill Creek in Gwinnett County, roughly 3,700 students) more than twice as large as the smallest (Lee County in South Georgia, roughly 1,800).

Dave Hunter, a member of the reclassification committee, predicted the smallest school in the Big 44 would be roughly 2,000 students. That cutoff would free about 20 current Class AAAAAA schools to play lower.

‘’That disparity has always been the criticism of the largest classification,’’ Hunter said. “This addresses that. You can't do anything about the size of the schools at the top, but most of them [in a Big 44] will be in the 2,000's.’’

The enrollment numbers used for the classification haven’t been released by the department of education, so it cannot be projected precisely which schools will go where. The GHSA will place schools in classes later this year for 2016-17.

Another big change in reclassification is a stipulation that schools with more than 3 percent of their student body residing outside the school’s county of origin must be moved up one class.

This rule likely will result in several private schools and city schools moving up. Private schools that fall in Class A – which has separate public and private divisions – will not be subject to the formula, but schools in AA and above, such as GADA Directors Cup all-sports trophy champions Lovett, Westminster and Marist, could be moving to higher classes.

City schools that are sports powers such as Buford, Cartersville, Calhoun and Jefferson also could face a bump in class under the new rule.

“There’s the perception that certain groups of schools have an advantage because they bring in people from outside their attendance area or county,’’ said GHSA executive director Gary Phillips. ‘’Constantly we heard we had to level the playing field.’’

How many schools this will affect remains a mystery. There are about 14 private schools outside of Class A. It could affect several, or only a couple.

‘’I’d be more surprised if it were just two,'' Phillips said, ''but right now we don’t know.''

The move to seven classifications - less than 20 years removed from an era of only four classes – will mean more state champions and playoff teams. There were only five state champions per sport as recently as the 2011-12 academic year. Now there will be eight in most sports. It also would mean 240 state-playoff teams among the 454 member schools (of which only 419 play football).

Phillips noted that this applies only to four sports - football, basketball, baseball and softball. Those are the ones that currently use a power-rating system to rank the Class A schools. In other sports, such as soccer, wrestling and tennis, the GHSA reserves the right to consolidate classifications for the playoffs.

The smallest classification would be called the Public/Private class. There would be five classes in between, from A to AAAAA, each getting about 58-64 schools.

The public/private division will have 24-team playoff draws in football, softball, basketball and baseball. Currently, only 16 teams make the playoffs each in public and private.

Those voting against the proposal expressed concern about new challenges in travel and scheduling. A seventh class will mean smaller regions and potentially more isolated schools facing longer drives to region contests.

‘’We could have a five-team region, and then wind up with five or six non-region games you have to find,’’ said Chad Campbell, the head football coach at Peach County and representative from Region 2-AAA.

Campbell also questioned whether the new formula will have the desired effect of identifying school's with a perceived competitive advantages.

“If they’d done something about counting kids out of the district zone instead out of of the county, it would’ve been a lot better,’’ he said. “I just don’t think they did anything to help the situation out with that.’’

The other 10 voting no were Tommy Stringer (Region 8-AAAAA), Jim Finch (2-AAAA), Dexter Wood (8-AAAA), Jeff Cooper (7-AAA), Joe Lancaster (8-AAA), Todd Mobley (1-AA), Benjy Rogers (4-AA), Scott Queen (5-A) and Wes Taylor (at-large).

Here is the wording of the proposal that passed:

1. Proposal for structure of Classifications for 2016-18 school years as follows:

A. Non-football playing schools will not be counted when calculating the teams being placed in Class A (they will be placed in their appropriate regions later).

B. Classifications will be divided as follows:

1. Big 44 (top 10% approximately) (NOTE: Teams may opt to play up into the Big 44 class, but no team may move down).

2. Class A Public/Private (same as before except the number of playoff teams will increase from 16 public and 16 private to 24 public and 24 private in football, softball, basketball and baseball. The Public/Private school shall be allowed to play up in classification if they elect to do so. And if a school chooses to do so, then an equal number of Class AA schools will be given the option to move down to the Class A Public/Private class.

3. Five (5) other classes, which will be split at the natural breaks between 19-21% of the remaining number after Big 44 and Class A Public/Private have been set. Example: 300 schools divided by 5 will be approximately 60 schools each.

C. Attendance Zone Restriction

1. Schools accepting students from outside of their reclassification attendance zone may be subject to being placed in the next highest classification. If the percentage of students attending a school from outside that's school's reclassification attendance zone exceeds three (3%) percent of that school's F.T.E. Count, then that school shall be placed in the next highest classification. Schools may opt to be placed in the Big 44. However, the attendance zone restriction in this section will not be applied so as to move a school up to the Big 44.

2. The reclassification attendance zone for ALL GHSA member schools shall be the county in which the school is located.

3. If a school is located in two counties, the school will be required to elect one of those to be its Reclassification Attendance Zone. The election shall be binding for the entire reclassification period.

4. Any school(s) that feel(s) that their placement is unfair and unjustified will be allowed to appeal to the reclassification committee. The school will present data and evidence to the committee that proves the placement is not warranted or fair to the school and the program. If the committee feels that the placement of the school into a higher classification is not warranted, then the school would be placed in a classification based on the F.T.E. count without any regard to the percentage of out-of-county students.

5. The number of students determined by multiplier will not be rounded up. Example: If a multiplier allows for 9.82 students outside of the attendance zone, 9 students will be the number that is used.

6. If a school is found to be intentionally reporting incorrect numbers, that school will be banned from participating in state playoff games for two (2) years and must pay a fine of $2,500.

D. For regions that have fewer than five (5) teams, the number of teams going to the state playoffs will be one (1) fewer than the number of teams in the region. Example: A region with four teams would get three playoff spots. The available playoff slot(s) will be awarded to non-playoff team(s) with the highest power ranking.