Has high school football outgrown semifinal sites?

High school football has become so popular that it may be outgrowing the GHSA-mandated sites for the semifinal playoff games.

At least three of last weekend's semifinal games had overflow crowds, while several others were close to capacity with fans of both teams.

This weekend's state championship games are being played for the third straight year at the Georgia Dome, which hosted the semifinals before the 2008 season. Now the semifinals are played at one of participating teams' home stadiums.

Ralph Swearngin, the GHSA's executive director, said the governing body's executive committee will review the semifinal arrangements, as it does every year, in March.

"We run into problems in metro Atlanta with some of our larger schools and we run into problems in rural areas with some of our smaller schools," Swearngin said. "The GHSA seating standards are being met. But the question is whether or not it is significant or big enough."

Current requirements to host a semifinals match call for 6,000 permanent seats in Class AAAAA, 4,000 in Class AAAA, 3,000 in Class AAA, 2,500 in Class AA and 2,000 in Class A.

"In addition to reviewing how many seats we need for semifinals, we'll look at if we need to make specific rules about the amount of restroom facilities and parking available," Swearngin said.

Fans from both Peach County and Sandy Creek had some complaints about the huge turnout for their Class AAA semifinals game. Sandy Creek's stadium met GHSA requirements with more than 3,000 permanent seats.

Swearngin said 3,866 tickets were sold to the game. Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker estimated a crowd of around 4,500 at the game, including the school bands, those admitted with GHSA passes, security and stadium personnel, and others.

"Our stadium met the requirements, so I was OK with the situation," Walker said. "For the most part, there were a lot of people that got there early and it was a great atmosphere for high school football."

However, Walker said he is not against the idea of the GHSA moving the semifinal to bigger stadiums in future years if ticket sales demand it.

"If the GHSA is worried about everybody being able to see the games and everything, then they need to move every single semifinals game to a stadium where it thinks will hold the crowd," said Walker. "I don't know if it should be maybe one particular stadium for all the semifinals, but maybe a choice of 20 or so stadiums around the state."

Swearngin said his organization had already performed some preliminary research into Walker's suggestion. The GHSA has compiled a list of 33 football stadiums across Georgia that have 6,000 or more permanent seats.

"We've got a ready-made list of neutral [sites], but I tell you what. It's going to be a tough sale," Swearngin said. "Since the schools are no longer the hosts to the championship rounds, I think we'll get a lot of kickback if we try to move the semifinals away from the home schools."

Other metro coaches are all over the boards in suggestions for the semifinals:

  • Berkmar's Jonathan Sanks: "I think the GHSA is doing a good job. However, I was in attendance at Sandy Creek-Peach County. [Fans not sitting in the bleachers] had to stand along the side of the fence by the concession stand [and it] was terrible for viewing a big game like that."
  • Marist's Alan Chadwick: "The present format is good. There's no need to change it. ... The current way is as fair as you can get it."
  • Kell's Derek Cook: "I don't think anything should change. The current situation seems to be working well, with a few exceptions. Nothing is going to satisfy everyone."
  • Lovett's Mike Muschamp: "I think the semifinals games should be in the Dome. The more kids that get the chance to play there, the better. It's a great venue and the chance for 20 teams to get there as opposed to just 10 means a ton of kids get that experience. I know logistically it means having to work on a timeline that can be difficult to follow [so as to not conflict with SEC Championship]. But that is a small price to pay for the experience."
  • Parkview's Cecil Flowe: "There is not a better way other than putting the semifinals back in the Dome so more people can have the Dome experience. Let me tell you, that is a fun place to play ..."
  • Lakeside's Thomas Cox: "I am old school when it comes to this issue. I like playing at the schools which are in the playoffs, including the state championship game. ... I think when you put these events in arenas, it takes away from the home-field advantage, as well as the total community involvement."
  • Duluth's Corey Jarvis: "I like the current rule because it makes it more special to make it to the state championship at the Georgia Dome. Also, those teams who earn the home field get to keep it all the way to the state championship, if everything works in their favor. However, as far as the seating numbers, maybe increase the size expectations of the stadiums to accommodate the games or have another neutral site for the semifinals."
  • South Cobb's Ed Koester: "I would prefer college stadiums or the Georgia Dome."
  • Westminster's Gerry Romberg: "I would like to see all semifinal and championship games be played at a large neutral site ... the Dome, Georgia Tech, Georgia and maybe a large venue in South Georgia."