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State athletic classification system changed
After divisive meeting, appeals may await
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MACON — In a startling turn of events, the Georgia High School Association executive committee has voted to alter the state’s athletic classification system, adopting a six-division plan by a 26-24 vote Tuesday.

The plan may yet face challenges, but if it is implemented as scheduled for the 2012-13 school year, the 400-plus schools that compete in GHSA will be divided into six classifications. For the past decade, the GHSA has used a five-classification system.

The six-class plan was presumed dead after being voted down in favor of the 4/8 plan by the GHSA reclassification committee in March, but it was revived late in Tuesday’s meeting.

The 4/8 plan, which would have divided the state into four classifications of upper and lower tiers, creating eight divisions for state playoffs and eight state champions, was defeated earlier Tuesday by a 35-15 margin. The plan was originally brought to the executive committee in March, but a vote was tabled until Tuesday.

GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin originally stated prior to Tuesday’s meeting that if the 4/8 plan failed, the current five-classification system would remain in place. However, Swearngin says he was advised by GHSA attorney Allen Connel that another measure could be brought to vote and approved without going through the reclassification committee.

That decision prompted Dave Hunter, who designed the six-classification plan, to make a motion for a vote on his plan. It narrowly passed, and there are still major hurdles it must clear before going into effect.

Reclassification committee member Jesse Crews claimed during the meeting that GHSA by-laws have been violated and said appeals are being planned for the next meeting in August to challenge the legality of the vote.

However, for now, the GHSA is on track to move away from the current five-classification format.

“I guess I’m pleased six classifications passed,” Hunter said. “But I don’t like divisiveness. I would hope that our executive committee has spoken and that everyone will take that and go with it.”

Crews, Charlton County’s athletic director and proponent of the 4/8 plan, referenced the GHSA Constitution and By-Laws’ Article 3, Section 2, C & D.

The by-laws state, “(c) The number of classifications and the number of regions will be determined by the Reclassification Committee at the time of each realignment,” and, “(d) The realignment plan of the Reclassification Committee shall be ratified by a simple majority vote of the full Executive Committee.”

“We brought the 4/8, that was defeated, so now you have nothing,” Crews said. “But we let another person who serves on the reclassification committee bring a plan that didn’t come from the reclassification committee, and I interpret the White Book (GHSA constitution) as saying that can’t happen.

“And that’s pretty well black and white.”

Connel countered, saying a proposal can be changed after hitting the floor without a subcommittee — such as the reclassification committee — introducing it. He said allowing only a subcommittee to bring a proposal to the executive committee would set a dangerous precedent.

“What happens is you’re allowing a small group of people to control the entire executive committee,” Connel said during the meeting. “They could handcuff the GHSA. They’re going to say, ‘We propose the 4/8 plan.’ Everyone votes no. They come back, ‘We propose (a different) 4/8 plan.’

“If we’re only voting ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ without any room for modification, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

Reclassification committee member Dr. Glenn White, principal of Model High, requested at the meeting for the executive committee to hold a discussion about Crews’ dispute, but it fell on deaf ears.

“I just wanted the reclassification committee to meet at least for 30 minutes to discuss and eliminate the appeal,” said White, who voted in favor of the six-classification plan. “That’s what I wanted to do. I was surprised that we started voting right off the bat like that because I thought we should have given at least a recess to discuss before we came back.

“Because of the argument and discussion that went on in there, I just don’t like how it makes us look as an organization.”

White wasn’t the only executive committee member who expressed concern about how the meeting transpired, and how divided the committee remains.

“I really regret there is no consensus,” said Buford athletic director and executive committee member Dexter Wood, echoing the sentiments of many of his peers. “A 26-24 vote is not good for the state of Georgia. Now we’ve got somewhat of a divided state on which way to go with reclassification and I regret that as an executive committee member.”

Shortly after reclassification committee chairman and designer of the 4/8 plan Earl Etheridge made his presentation, it was evident the plan had no momentum. Hunter and several other executive committee members expressed their opposition to the plan. Soon after, Swearngin circulated a memo outlining the challenges the GHSA would face in each sport by expanding to eight state championships. Issues included finding multiple sites to host championships and how it would strain existing contracts with corporate sponsors.

The 4/8 plan was then squashed by vote. A motion was made by Raynette Evans, a 4/8 proponent, to amend the current five-classification plan, which Hunter rejected. Evans also argued that 4/8 plan had been heavily scrutinized, and that not much was known about the six-classification plan. Hunter then moved for a vote on his plan.

“Knowing the way things have gone down the past two weeks, nothing surprises me about what happened,” Etheridge said. “I think the best thing to do, when you get beat, is to suck it up and go about your business. All I can do if I say something is be misinterpreted.”

Wood believes that, although the six-classification plan hasn’t been scrutinized to the level of the 4/8 plan, there was enough information available on the six-classification plan to make an educated vote in favor of it.

“I think most people had an idea of both plans coming in,” Wood said. “We’ve been given the information in plenty of time. I’ve studied it and sent it out to every school in my region to look at. I had gotten their votes and known their sentiments; I knew exactly how to vote for my region today.

“I don’t know how other members feel about that, but I was prepared.”

With the passing of the six-classification plan Tuesday, Swearngin said the GHSA will move forward accordingly.

“As far as everything is concerned, (the six-classification plan) is what we’ll go on when we start looking through the data next October (when the latest FTE accounts are released and classifications and regions can be assigned).”

The six-classification plan divides schools in percentages of 15-15-16-16-16-22, from classifications 6A to A, respectively.