The Big 32 has been deep-sixed.
At a specially-called meeting in Thomaston on Thursday, the Georgia High School Association's reclassification committee voted to recommend scrapping the controversial reclassification plan that would have separated the state's 32 largest high schools, including Lowndes High, into a separate playoff bracket in all sports beginning with the 2004-05 school year.
First proposed last summer, the so-called Big 32 plan was designed to address complaints of enrollment disparity between Class AAAAA schools. But despite originally being approved by the reclassification committee and passing on a first reading by the GHSA's executive committee, the plan came under increasing criticism over the past few months.
Several coaches objected to the Big 32 schools automatically receiving playoff berths regardless of record. The automatic exclusion of longtime football powers such as Valdosta High and Warner Robins High drew more criticism.
And the unbalanced geography of the Big 32 -- Lowndes, Colquitt County and Camden County were the only schools outside metro Atlanta included in the plan -- also came under fire, especially among the larger South Georgia schools.
"It was losing steam is what I had heard from several guys," said Lowndes football coach and athletic director Randy McPherson, who had opposed the plan from the beginning on grounds that it would have increased travel costs and weakened traditional rivalries in the current Region 1-AAAAA.
"This whole region is a tight-knit bunch," said McPherson. "The competition is good and there's a lot of tradition between the schools in this region."
Realignment committee member Dave Hunter, the former football coach at Brookwood High in Snellville, said that the automatic playoff berths "turned out to be a big concern," although he added that it was not the only concern that led the committee to recommend scrapping the plan.
But there still could be big changes ahead for Region 1. The realignment committee is now proposing to take the top 15 percent of schools for Class AAAAA, which would shrink the state's largest classification from 87 schools to 57 and drop Lee County down to the AAAA level. Unless Lee County elected to play up or saw a dramatic increase in enrollment, that would leave Region 1 with only five schools, something the GHSA is unlikely to approve.
If Region 1 was required to add teams, the most likely candidates could come from the north, where three Houston County schools currently compete in Class AAAAA, or from the east, where Brunswick, Camden County and Glynn Academy compete in the far corner of the state. Either grouping of schools would be about a four-hour round-trip from Valdosta.
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