The Georgia High School Association moved the state championship football games to the Georgia Dome in 2008 by unanimous vote, yet three years later most coaches haven’t warmed to the idea, a survey conducted by Georgia High School Football Daily for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed.
Fifty-four percent of the 147 high school coaches who responded to GHSF Daily’s e-mail survey said that the Georgia Dome should have remained the site for the semifinals,which it was from 1994 through 2007.
Only 39 percent said they preferred the finals in the Dome. The rest either had no opinion or wanted the Dome out of the playoffs entirely.
“After playing five semifinal games there, my sentiment is to go back to playing the semifinals in the Dome,’’ Statesboro coach Steve Pennington said. “It is a lifetime opportunity to play there, and the semifinals give more students a chance to experience it.’’
The farther a coach is located from metro Atlanta, the more likely he prefers the way it used to be -- using high school sites.
Among non-metro coaches, 62 percent prefer Dome semifinals. Among metro Atlanta coaches, 46 percent prefer Dome semifinals.
Metro Atlanta coaches made up 46 percent of respondents to the survey, but represent only 37 percent of coaches statewide, suggesting that an accounting of all 405 GHSA head coaches would have yielded more opposition to having the finals in the Dome.
But many prominent coaches around the state want the finals in the Dome, including T. McFerrin of Jefferson, Rick Tomberlin of Effingham County and Mark Crews of Brookwood.
“For the sake of even odds in the championship, I really like the Dome as a neutral site,’’ Crews said. “Play them at the Dome and everyone is treated the same and the added attraction of weather not being a factor in the outcome.’’
Those who favored having the semifinals in the Dome include Jeff Herron of Camden County, Larry Campbell of Lincoln County and Ed Pilcher of Bainbridge.
A few coaches, including Alan Chadwick of Marist and Steve Savage of Commerce, believe the Dome should not be used for any playoff games. Rich McWhorter of Charlton County supports a neutral site for the finals at a field agreeable to both schools.
Pilcher, who coached in the Dome for six semifinal games, was on the GHSA executive committee that voted to move the finals to the Dome, but he said voting against it was pointless because the move had the support it needed. Hewas willing to go along with a two-year trial.
Like Herron and Campbell, Pilcher believes that championship games belong to the high school communities, not Atlanta, so that that fans and players can celebrate together on the field afterward, unlike in the Dome.
“I was really hoping that Lowndes and Valdosta would meet in the finals this year,’’ said Pilcher, noting that both Valdosta schools were in the quarterfinals. “Why would they travel 255 miles and the whole town get up and move when they’re three miles apart and their stadiums could hold it? That was my whole point.’’
The GHSA’s rationale for moving the finals to the Dome mostly concerned more spacious seating. GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin believed the championship games had outgrown high school stadiums.
Georgia had been one of the few states that staged state championship games in high school venues. In 2006 and 2007, more tickets were sold than seats were available for all 10 state championship games.
According to Swearngin, fewer than 40 high school stadiums in Georgia are adequate to hold typical state championship crowds.
"When nearly 50 percent of the paying customers have to stand the entire game, it is not a good experience,’’ Swearngin said. “I really believe that the majority of people understand that the ultimate game of the season should be played at the premier venue. This is the conclusion reached by more than 45 states across the country.’’
The Survey Says:
54.4 percent -- The Georgia Dome should host the semifinals, the way it used to do.
38.8 -- The Georgia Dome should host the state finals, the way it does now.
3.4 -- The Georgia Dome should not be used for the state playoffs.
3.4 -- No preference or did not answer.
Metro Atlanta coaches
45.6 -- The Georgia Dome should host the semifinals, the way it used to do.
50.0 -- The Georgia Dome should host the state finals, the way it does now.
1.5 -- The Georgia Dome should not be used for the state playoffs.
3.0 -- No preference or did not answer.
Non-metro Atlanta coaches
62.0 -- The Georgia Dome should host the semifinals, the way it used to do.
29.1 -- The Georgia Dome should host the state finals, the way it does now.
5.1 -- The Georgia Dome should not be used for the state playoffs.
3.8 -- No preference or did not answer.
Note: Metro Atlanta coaches made up 46 percent of the survey respondents but make up only 37 percent of football-playing schools in the GHSA.
THE SURVEY SAYS
More than 140 high school football coaches responded to an extensive questionnaire on some of the biggest issues facing their sport. The series, which began on Sunday, continues throughout state championship week.
Coming this week:
Sunday: Coaches: It's a parent trap
Monday: Top ingredients for a winning program
Tuesday: Private school classification dilemma
Wednesday: Biggest changes in the sport
Thursday: Diversity among coaches
Friday: Best active coaches; best of all time
Saturday: State finals in Georgia Dome? Is it working?
Sunday: An official look at officials
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