Three months ago, Myrtle Beach football coach Mickey Wilson said he would not be in favor of “playing up” a division in order to keep the natural ties of Region VII-AAA together.
With Socastee, St. James and even possibly North Myrtle Beach nearing a move to Class AAAA, Myrtle Beach is potentially going to be left in the cold in terms of region rivalries under the current system when realignment takes place again in 2014. A new proposal to the state’s high-school football landscape could keep those ties together and prevent the Seahawks being shipped into a Charleston or Florence region.
In January, the South Carolina High School League will begin hearing debate that would alter the regular season, playoffs and region alignments for every school in the state. It would create a five-division system that would award five state titles – as opposed to the seven currently given out annually – and place schools in five-team regions.
The proposal could be finalized as soon as this spring and if approved would go into effect for the 2014 season.
“That solves that problem, that’s for sure,” Wilson said Wednesday after the email detailing the proposal was sent out to media outlets. “If it stays the way it is now, we would have to do a tremendous of traveling. What region would they put [Myrtle Beach] in?
“Every team is in Horry County [under the proposal]. Rivalries, its’ going to make a lot of money for everybody.”
That’s not to say there won’t be significant changes, or that every team on the Grand Strand is going to be so lucky.
For starters, the newest core region to the area would feature Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Socastee, St. James and Conway. The Tigers, who are currently sitting in the lower half of what is now Class AAAA, would join the other four teams in the proposed Division 4, Region 7.
The other Grand Strand-area team that currently shares Region VII-AAA, Georgetown, would be shifted into Division 3, Region 8, and be matched up with Battery Creek, Hanahan, Stall and Timberland.
Carolina Forest, the largest area school, would remain in the state’s largest class and be in Division 5, Region 6 with Lugoff-Elgin, South Florence, Spring Valley and West Florence.
Other major aspects of the realignment that would affect nearly every team in the state:
• All schools would expand to an 11-game regular season. Currently, only Class AAAA teams play 11 regular-season games.
• Only two teams from each region would qualify for the playoffs. Currently, most classifications include four playoff spots per region.
• Each playoff bracket would morph into a 16-team system. Currently Class AAA has a 32-team field.
• One team would be crowned state champion in each division. Currently, there are two champions each in Classes AAAA, AA and A, for a total of seven state champions.
The extra regular-season game would give every school an opportunity for an extra home game every two seasons. The added gate money would be incentive alone for some schools to vote this through. However, at the same time, many schools would be losing money via missed opportunities in the playoffs.
With only two schools from each region qualifying for the postseason means, each region game would be that much more important. The proposed system guarantees that every team in the playoffs will have at least a winning region record. It could all but wipe out teams with only three regular-season wins making the postseason.
Even without taking the playoffs into consideration, the proposed changes will hit some schools’ budgets harder than others. Carolina Forest, which would have to travel to Columbia an extra time each year, wouldn’t have a region partner within one hour. That affects not only the travel costs, but the gate money produced by what is supposed to be the biggest games of the year.
“It’s been talked about and rumored for years,” Panthers coach Drew Hummel said. “There’s been a lot of talk about doing something to even up the classes and the Big 16 has always been a debate.
“I think they’re finally really starting to get serious. This is by no means a pass deal. … I don’t know if it will pass or not.”
The SCHSL Executive Committee will meet January 22 to continue discussion. If it continues, it will go in front of the full board in the spring.