At-large error: North Paulding, South Gwinnett lose playoff berths after mistakes discovered

North Paulding’s girls basketball team thought it had made the state basketball tournament for the first time in history on Monday, and coach Scott Green was getting ready to spread the good news on the morning announcements. 

South Gwinnett’s boys also believed they were in the dance based on brackets published Sunday evening by the Georgia High School Association. 

Now, both teams are out, replaced by North Gwinnett’s girls and Campbell’s boys, and the disappointed teams are looking for answers. 

“How can the GHSA publish a bracket without being 100 percent sure that it is correct?” Green said. “My phone was blowing up with congratulations from area coaches. I had seniors crying with excitement as our school has never been in the state tournament. Our social media blasted out the exciting information. I feel the GHSA owes our players, coaches and community an explanation and an apology.” 

South Gwinnett boys coach Qaree Howard was similarly confused. 

“They definitely should not post until they have all the facts,’’ Howard said. “If there are issues of this magnitude, a call or something would work. Don't just post it up with no explanations. My kids’ spirits were lifted so high just to be dropped back down. It makes me question the process.” 

GHSA associate director Ernie Yarbrough, who coordinates basketball for the association, says both errors were human mistakes caused partly by the pressure to get the draws posted as soon as possible. In previous years, the GHSA announced the official at-large berths on Wednesday, just two days before the first round commenced, which led to coaches pleading for turning over the draws 24 hours after the region tournaments were completed. 

The GHSA states on its website that draws are not official until appeals are final on Monday at 11 a.m. 

In the case of North Paulding, the bracket simply was filled out in error Sunday evening and corrected the next morning, Yarbrough said. The South Gwinnett-Campbell error was fixed when it was found that one of Campbell’s out-of-state opponents had an erroneous won-lost record on MaxPreps.com, the official scorekeeper of the GHSA. That discovery and correction put Campbell ahead of South Gwinnett in the GHSA ‘’power ratings,’’ which determine the at-large playoff teams.

“I realize there was some confusion, and I accept responsibility,” Yarbrough said. “I’ve spoken with a number of people at North Paulding and South Gwinnett, and I’ve apologized to them for any error on our part. There’s pressure to get the draws out as soon as possible. There’s never any intention to deceive, not in this office.” 

The boys and girls Class AAAAAAA playoff brackets each have 31 automatic qualifiers and one at-large team. The at-large berth goes to the highest-rated non-automatic qualifier based on GHSA “power ratings” that consider  won-lost records of the teams and their opponents. 

The system depends on teams reporting their scores accurately and timely to MaxPreps.com. 

North Paulding’s girls and South Gwinnett’s boys each finished with 14-12 records and lost in the quarterfinals of their region tournaments last week. Only the top four region finishers move on to the state tournament automatically. 

North Gwinnett’s girls are only 11-15, but they picked up points for the victories won by teams that they defeated, which is the built-in reward for playing a tougher schedule. 

According to MaxPreps’ own computer rankings, which apply a different formula than that of the GHSA’s power ratings, North Paulding is No. 25 overall in AAAAAAA while North Gwinnett is No. 28, though MaxPreps validates that North Gwinnett’s schedule was much tougher. 

MaxPreps’ model favors South Gwinnett’s boys over Campbell’s, though only slightly, as it has South Gwinnett at No. 16 and Campbell at No. 17. Both had 14-12 records. 

The at-large berths could become a thing of the past after reclassification next year. Many GHSA members prefer going back to six classifications from seven, which likely would eliminate four-team regions and make at-large berths unnecessary. 

The state tournament begins Friday. Campbell’s boys will play at Etowah, and North Gwinnett’s girls will play at Cherokee.

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