Nearly every aspect of high school football in South Carolina could be in for a major shake-up, including how teams are classified, the length of the regular season and the number of teams that advance to the playoffs.
Every two years, the South Carolina High School League initiates realignment, a process of grouping schools into athletic regions based on 135-day enrollment and proximity. Recently, though, League Commissioner Jerome Singleton requested that every school submit 45-day enrollment numbers.
“The data received…was used to create a ‘mock’ five divisions football realignment,” Singleton wrote in an e-mail to the state’s coaches and athletic directors. “Please understand that this is a ‘rough draft’ at best because the member schools numbers may change by the 135-day report that is sent to the State Department of Education. I send this out only for consideration as to the concept of a possible five divisions football realignment.”
Currently, the state’s teams are divided into four classifications.
The 52 largest schools in the state, in terms of enrollment, comprise the AAAA classification. The next largest 52 make up the AAA classification. The next 52 largest make up AA and everyone else (about 50 schools) make up Class A.
Under Singleton’s plan, there would be five classifications, each comprised of 40 teams. Division 5 (which would be the state’s largest), Division 4, Division 3 and Division 2 would each have eight, five-team regions. Division 1 would not be as uniform and symmetrical, having only six regions, with some having six teams and others having eight. For instance, Region 1 would have Calhoun Falls, Christ Church, Dixie, McCormick, Southside Christian, St. Joseph’s, Ware Shoals and Whitmire. The reason so many schools were placed together is because they are all relatively close to one another, making for cheaper travel. In some instances, grouping teams with other nearby schools to minimize travel is not possible, however.
Currently, every classification does their own thing where the post- season is concerned. Class A plays a 10-game regular season and uses a point system to seed teams from the playoffs. Half of Class A teams are considered “big” and the other half “little” in terms of enrollment numbers. There is a big playoff bracket and a little playoff bracket (each containing 16 teams) and two Class A champions are crowned. Given the split champions, the Class A season is the state’s shortest, lasting 14 games from the opener to the state finals. Every other classification has a 15-game season from start to finish.
Last season, AA began a new means of crowning champions. Like Class A, the playoff bracket is split in two (based on enrollment numbers) and two champions are crowned. Unlike Class A, though, there is not a point system to seed teams. Region finish determines who is seeded where and every team makes the playoffs, with one seeds getting a bye week in the first round. AAA has remained the only classification to crown a single champion. Regions are not balanced in terms of numbers (with some having six teams and some having eight) so some regions get five teams in and some only get three, but teams earn playoff spots and their seeding based on how they finished in their region.
Class AAAA crowns two champions, but does so in a different way than Class A and Class AA. Whereas A and AA determine who goes in the big bracket and who goes in the small one before the season even starts, AAAA has a 32-team field based on a point system. The largest 16 schools that qualify for the playoffs (in terms of enrollment) go in the big bracket and the smaller 16 go in the little bracket. Currently AAAA is the only classification with an 11-game regular season (the others all play 10).
Singleton’s plan calls for every school to play an 11-game regular season and ends the practice of split championships. Currently there are seven state champions and Singleton’s plan would pair that down to five. Additionally, point systems would be done away with entirely. Each division would have 16 teams make the playoffs and only teams that finish first or second in their region would advance to the post-season. The exception would be in Division 1, where four at-large teams would have to be added to get to 16 teams. The plan does not address how those 16 will be chosen.
“(This) insures that teams in playoffs have a region winning record,” Singleton’s e-mail said.
Part of what prompted Singleton to create the plan was the number of losing teams that made the playoffs, said John Smith, athletic director of Great Falls High.
“In Class A, we had something like 56 percent of the teams in the playoffs with losing records. All classifications had a high percentage,” Smith said.
Smith said often times, teams with losing records that have to travel a long way to play a heavily-favored higher seed, simply don’t bring any fans, leading to low gate receipts that already-struggling-financially schools simply can’t afford. Rusty Pemberton, Lewisville High’s athletic director, said going back to an 11-game regular season would give everyone an extra game and payday, including those teams with losing records that will no longer make the playoffs.
“I like this proposal,” Pemberton said. “We get an extra regular season game which means more money.”
Singleton’s e-mail seems to back that up. He notes that more out-of- region games can be scheduled for “financial benefits as opposed to playoff implications.”
If the proposed plan came to fruition, it would have an effect on Union County High School. Currently, Union County is in class AAA but would move up to AAAA due to enrollment numbers. Indian Land would take its place in Region III-AAA since it would also move up and Union County would join Greenville, Blue Ridge, Eastside and Greer in Region II-AAAA.
Had the plan been in effect this year, it would have drastically changed the way the season played out. Cross, which won the little Class A title, would not have made the playoffs since it did not finish in the top two in its region. Union County, which won the AAA upperstate title before losing to Hartsville in the state finals, would not have made the playoffs since the Yellow Jackets finished in fourth place in region III-AAA.
Singleton’s plan would apply only to football. In fact, teams could conceivably be in different regions in other sports. His e-mail stresses that his proposal is only a “concept for consideration.” The League’s executive committee will meet on January 22 to consider the plan.
Travis Jenkins, Editor for the Chester News and Observer, contributed to this article. Sports Editor, Tiffany Grady-Hudgins can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by cell at (864) 251-4330.