GHSA passes NIL, restructures playoffs for three classifications

GHSA President Jim Finch presides over the executive committee meeting on Oct. 2, 2023, in Macon.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

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GHSA President Jim Finch presides over the executive committee meeting on Oct. 2, 2023, in Macon.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

MACON — Coming soon to a newspaper, radio station or streaming service: your local high school athletes starring in their own commercials.

It’s all possible after the Georgia High School Association, fearing legal issues, approved a new bylaw at its executive committee meeting Monday that would allow athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. Georgia became the 30th state that allows NIL deals for high school athletes. There was token opposition to the proposal.

“We’ve seen what’s happened in college, and it’s been a train wreck,” GSHA executive director Robin Hines said. “We’re just trying to put guardrails up to keep us from going off the tracks.”

There was a more intense debate surrounding the upcoming reclassification plan, which is a huge departure from the existing structure.

Under the new plan, the state will be divided into six classifications instead of seven. Class 6A, the largest division, would have 14% of the schools, and Class A would have 26% of the schools. The remaining will be divided equally between Classes 2A, 3A, 4A and 5A. The smallest schools (approximately 50) will be placed in Class A Division 2.

The biggest change will take place in the playoffs for Class A, 2A and 3A. All public and private schools will compete together within regions during the regular season. But when the playoffs begin, the private schools from those three classifications will compete in a separate combined championship bracket. The public schools in those three classifications will compete in a championship bracket for their respective classifications.

The change will require use of a power-rating format to determine playoffs and seeds. The power-rating formula will be created by the GHSA office, but details were not revealed Monday.

Brad Dehem, the director of athletics at the Mount Vernon School in Atlanta, expressed concern about how power ratings could be determined evenly among three different classifications. “Our system in the GHSA is not set up for power ratings,” Dehem said.

GHSA president Jim Finch said he wasn’t a fan of power ratings either, but added, “I like them better than the disparity in the competitive balance.”

The GHSA did vote to form a subcommittee to study a competitive balance model for the next reclassification cycle in two years.

The GHSA began the process of crafting a workable NIL rule at its spring meeting. It comes with some definitive restrictions. Players will not be allowed to use their school’s name, logos or uniforms or other intellectual property, or use the school’s facilities. An NIL deal can’t be used to recruit players to a different school and no “collectives” will be allowed. There is no compensation or “pay-for-play” provided by the school.

The GHSA rule encourages students and their families to seek professional advice about the impact on college scholarships and tax implications. A student or parent must notify the school within seven days of an NIL agreement.

“Everyone should control their own name, image and likeness,” Hines said. “I should be able to say, ‘I’m Robin Hines, I want you to go to Dairy Queen and buy this Blizzard.’ What I can’t do is say, ‘I’m Robin Hines, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association, and I want you to go to Dairy Queen and buy this Blizzard.’”

Most officials believe the rule will have little effect on high school athletics and that the compensation will be kept small and local.

“It will be a challenge initially, just like is on the college level. There are some words that will probably need to be changed, because people always try to find a way to circumvent the process, unfortunately,” said Jasper Jewell, director of athletics for Atlanta City Schools. “I think the GHSA has done and will continue to do a good job monitoring it,”

In other business, the GSHA approved a pay raise, of approximately 6% for officials in all sports. Under the new rules, a football official will make $128 for a regular-season game, $170 for a playoff game and $185 for a state championship game.

The increased pay is a step the association has taken to help slow the loss of officials. Assistant executive director and head of officials Ernie Yarbrough also encouraged schools to have a game manager on hand at events to ensure appropriate behavior by fans. Yarbrough said 78% of the officials who quit said it was because of sportsmanship issues.

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