It was a rough day of decision-making for the GHSA, as one state title game on Friday afternoon ended in controversy, essentially costing Peach County a state championship. It also determined the snowy weather was cause to postpone four state title games, including Rabun County’s on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The decision does more than delay Rabun and Hapeville Charter, which proves inconvenient enough in a sport where sticking to a routine is everything. That part is understandable. What’s problematic is that it means the game cannot be played at the Mercedes Benz Stadium, thus crushing the hearts of countless players, coaches, fans and communities. It’s not the fault of the MB Stadium, who has no immediate openings to play the games there. It’s GHSA’s doing that made four state title games be played on someone’s home field, determined by a Friday evening coin flip. Luckily for the Wildcats, they finally won a coin toss and will play their state title game next Friday night, December 15 at 7:30 p.m. in Tiger.
While that is fantastic, it doesn’t take away the fact that a HUGE chunk of the reward of a fantastic season is to play in the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium. It’s always been played at the Georgia Dome or now the new Mercedes Benz. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for so many teams, and they’ve been robbed of that chance. Playing for a state title trumps whatever location the game is played at, but it’s all part of the history and experience. While in Rabun’s case, the consolation is getting to play in front of the home crowd, imagine how much more bitter this situation would be if they lost the coin flip and were forced to play in Atlanta — only at Hapeville instead of MB.
Sources say that by the time GHSA made the announcement to cancel the last two games on Friday (4 pm and 8 pm), the 4 pm teams were in the building and for the most part ready to take the field. Those four teams were told they would not be playing. Rabun County, according to sources, was already in Atlanta as well, with Hapeville (who resides just minutes away) on hand as well. Why not let them play?
Instead the first two games on Saturday also were postponed, but the 4 and 8 pm games Saturday evening will still be played as well at the Benz. Where was the Plan B for GHSA? Why not ensure that a separate location, while not as prestigious, could serve as a backup even if the game had to be rescheduled to the next weekend. Take for example, this game could have been made up at UGA, Georgia Tech or some other neutral venue that rewards the kids and coaches for their outstanding seasons. Many will never have the chance to get back to the Benz. There are no guarantees.
All this being said, this isn’t to mention the money that people invested in traveling, parking passes, tickets, t-shirts saying “Benz Bound, etc.” Tickets purchased will still be honored for the respective games, but it’s unsure whether parking passes will be refunded.
Fans of Rabun County and all other schools affected were outraged, and blasted GHSA on social media. While the organization has done a lot of good, this one is a head-scratcher. While we can all be rest assured that they had people’s safety at the forefront of their decision-making, it’s the lack of a true backup plan that proves perplexing. These games should be played on a neutral field — although as obvious fans of Rabun County, we are thrilled they get to play at home.
Many fans commented that they reserve the right to decide if they felt traveling to Saturday’s game would be dangerous. It’s a valid point, as GPB shows all games televised live for any who can’t attend to watch the game from the comfort of their own living room.
The decision to postpone four title games is bad enough, but the GHSA came under more fire as that decision was on the heels of a terrible call that cost Peach County a championship. Facing a 10-0 deficit to Calhoun in the 3A title game, Peach County used a couple of field goals to bridge the gap to four. With about three minutes to go, they appeared to convert a fourth-down play on a pass where the receiver’s knee was down at the one-yard-line. This would almost certainly have led to a go-ahead touchdown. However, despite a clear catch, referees called the pass incomplete. Sure, Peach had one more offensive possession, but couldn’t find the end zone, falling 10-6.
Chalk December 8, 2017 as a horrible day for GHSA. Again, the organization has done so much good in high school sports, but perhaps today’s events will foster better contingency plans and perhaps video replay in the state’s biggest games.