4 Questions with GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines

Credit: Special to the AJC

Credit: Special to the AJC

Today’s interviewee is Dr. Robin Hines, executive director of the Georgia High School Association. In this interview with Jon Nelson and Hannah Goodin on GPB’s Football Fridays in Georgia podcast, Hines discusses COVID cancellations and forfeits, the public-private debate, the number of classifications and the attendance plans for the playoffs and championships. Hines’ answers and some questions are edited slightly for easier reading. For a transcript or audio of the full interview, click here.

Dr. Robin Hines, GHSA executive director

1. With the COVID Delta variant surging, there were almost 30 football games canceled, postponed or forfeited last week. What are the rules on getting cancellations and forfeits? “Of those games, we’re still considerably less than 10% as far as cancellations are concerned. And many of those [teams facing cancellations] have already found [replacement] games, and they absolve the contract and move on. As far as the forfeitures are concerned, the way it works is really not different than last year. It’s just that if a school can’t agree, if one questions another as far as a COVID postponement or cancellation and that sort of thing, we will step in and look at the information and make sure that they’re following the local Department of Health’s procedures and protocols. And we’re doing everything that we can do so there’s no financial issues that are with the school. But you do have to account for that game. And certainly, those regions have already discussed this and about how it’s going to work because the regions themselves determine who their playoff participants are, and the criteria changes from region to region. What the Georgia High School Association waits for is who are the four teams that are going to represent that region in the playoffs, and those are plugged into the brackets as we are moving forward.” [In 2020, the GHSA did not assign forfeits if COVID concerns caused a game to be canceled. In 2021, the GHSA may assign a forfeit but is encouraging teams to reschedule canceled games and is helping them find other opponents when possible. Only about five games have been declared forfeits so far, but more are inevitable.]

2. One of the other hot-button issues coming across recently is reclassification. One of the ideas is putting private schools into their own category, at least the nine most successful ones. Where is realignment right now? What are the next steps in discussing the private issue when it comes to realignment? “Well, first thing is, the meeting that was held the other day [Aug. 23 public meeting of the reclassification committee] was just to get the ball rolling, get the conversation started. I don’t think that it’s any secret to anybody out there of the unprecedented success of our private members. You know what the public-school folks are saying, that it’s disheartening when they know that they don’t stand a chance and those sorts of things, that there must be some type of advantage [that private schools have]. When you have two [private] schools in 2A, for instance, that account for well over 10 state championships in one year and runners-up in about 10 or 11 others, it’s tough. So, one of the things that [the reclass committee] will discuss is how do you level the playing field, what’s that going to entail. And our private members, they recognize the problem as well. And you talked about Coach [Tim] Hardy from Greater Atlanta [Christian] with something that he’s brought up to talk about. The staff, myself, the GHSA office, we don’t have a vote. We certainly value all of our members. But I expect that to be probably the focus of this cycle.” [Hardy, the athletic director at GAC, has voiced a counterproposal from the GHSA’s largest nine schools that would have them continue to play with public schools for state championships in classifications 4A and higher.]

3. Do we have too many classifications? “I’ve tried to drop some of those A’s. I feel like I feel like six A’s could be an appropriate number. But again, our [executive] committee and our board of trustees, they have not shared that view. And they’re the ones that count. They have the votes on that. And you know why is it that way? The majority of people [on the executive committee] don’t have a problem with travel because there’s a school on every corner. The problem comes when you get into the middle in south Georgia and you get into, like, Region 1-7A, where there’s four people in there [Camden County, Colquitt County, Lowndes, Tift County] and they’re traveling like crazy. It happens in middle Georgia as well. So we find a way to make it work. And, of course, you know, you bring up the competitive balance thing in the first round. I don’t think that it’s really been a financial boom for everybody with having the noncompetitive first rounds. But that’s where we are. And I tried to ask ahead of time was [reducing the number of classes] something that would be considered? And the answer was no.” [Fewer classifications would ease travel, but limit the number of playoff teams in football and other sports. More playoff teams mean more schools with the opportunity to earn revenue from a playoff game. Hines’ counterargument is that those extra playoff games are often blowouts that aren’t big money-makers.]

4. Eight championship games were played last year with fans in the stands. What’s the plan for the championships this year? “It’s going to be the same way. While we haven’t gotten into those discussions, we do have a contract with Georgia State and Center Parc Stadium, and we asked them to open the upper bowl so that people that wanted to socially distance certainly can do that. But, you know, we don’t want to get into a situation like we had last year where there were several rounds of the playoffs where there were [school] systems that don’t allow any fans. We’re going to be 100% as far as spectators are concerned and certainly want to encourage people to be vaccinated. You know, that’s the million-dollar deal right there. And I’m not going to give the name of the community, but I was looking at some stats to where there were 120 people that were hospitalized over the weekend and 118 of them were not vaccinated. People have decisions that they need to make. Do I want to be a spectator? Do I want my child to participate? Participation is not down, and we’re moving forward. And our plan is to be 100% once the playoffs start. But as I’ve said from the very beginning, the situation remains fluid. And we will take a look at things as we move forward and continue to meet with our sports medicine people.” [In 2020, the GHSA allowed home teams in the playoffs to set attendance policies. A few games were played without fans, many others with reduced attendance. In 2021, the GHSA reserves the right to force a venue change if a home team would limit attendance.]

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