The GHSA’s decision this week to change the format of the state basketball tournament seems to have met with general approval among head coaches, although many are unaware of it.
Future playoff brackets will match those of football, soccer and baseball, meaning schools from regions 1-4 (mostly middle and south Georgia) will meet schools from region 5-8 (mostly north Georgia) beginning with the quarterfinals rather than the semifinals.
The perception is that the 5-8 half of the brackets is stronger than the 1-4 half, leading to many of the better teams getting knocked off before the semifinals. Teams from regions 5-8 have won 15 of the past 20 state titles in classes AAAAAA to AA, and three of the five exceptions have been from metro Atlanta. Class A uses different bracket set ups.
“There have been many years when three or four teams from the north could have easily been in the final four, but they play each other in the elite eight, and then the final-four game is not very competitive,’’ said Greater Atlanta Christian girls coach Cal Boyd, whose teamed lost in overtime in the Class AA quarterfinals to eventual champion Kendrick of Columbus. Both teams are from regions 5-8.
Kendrick won its semifinal 75-50 against Putnam County, a team that won the bracket half with regions 1-4.
“I think it is pretty rare for a team from the south to win a state title in any classification, so I like the proposal,’’ Boyd said.
Tift County boys coach Eric Holland, whose team became the first from South Georgia to win the highest class in 16 years, expressed concern that he and other coaches weren’t asked for input before Monday’s vote by the GHSA’s executive committee, which passed unanimously.
Holland was among several high-profile coaches contacted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who unsure of what had passed.
‘’At some point, you’ve got to play somebody, and it doesn’t matter when you play them,’’ Holland said. “I just didn’t like the fact that we didn’t have a chance to see if we’re for that or we’re not.’’
Here are responses from other coaches.
Kendrick girls coach Sterling Hicks:
“I like it. It gives teams from good regions an opportunity to compete and have a chance to get four teams in semifinals. Sometimes the better regions suffer. Some final-four games should have been played earlier. I think it will work, but the better teams normallyfind a way to make it to the end. You will need some luck either way.’’ (Note that Kendrick was in Region 5-AA this past season but will compete in 2-AAA in 2014-16.)
Calhoun boys coach Vince Layson:
‘’I like the change. I think it will give us more of a ‘true’ bracket. I sometimes felt the north/south split eliminated some of the healthy competitors a little early. Also, I like that it will be the same across the board for all major sports now. Travel might be an issue if we have another winter like we did this year. There wasn't a lot of turnaround time between games this year because the playoffs were backed up. That could pose an issue of the players missing a little bit more class time for travel.’’
North Forsyth girls coach Eric Herrick:
“I like it. I think it will make for better final-four matchups. Two years ago we had Norcross and Parkview, who were arguably the best two girls teams in the state, playing in a sweet 16 game. That game went to double overtime. Then we had some lopsided semifinal games. For us we saw three Gwinnett county teams this past season in the same tournament. I think it will be good to break that up and create some new playoff rivalries. As a coach, I want to see some other teams we may not normally play. It’s exciting.’’
South Atlanta boys coach Michael Reddick:
''I like the new brackets. I have been asking for this change for years. I think this is best for the tournament, but it might not be best for the finances. I have seen years when the top teams in a region have knocked each other out of the playoffs instead of meeting up in the final four. This way seems more fair for all involved.''