In less than a month, the South Carolina High School League will finalize a five-class system for the first time in state history.
Proposals will be discussed, appeals will be heard and regions will be locked in for the 2016-2018 two-year block.
And while there is one more academic school year to be played out before any of that goes into effect, the area’s football coaches are going to feel it much sooner. That’s because scheduling for the next season typically happens a year in advance.
Coaches are tentatively lining up opponents already. The goal is two-fold.
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First, a coach wants to put together a schedule that is best for his program. Maybe a younger team needs confidence-boosting wins. Or maybe increased early competition is necessary to test a team’s meddle.
Secondly – and maybe most important – schools need to maximize gate money. That means rivalry games in non-region play are a must if at all possible. Indirectly, traveling to play games on the other side of the state are a negative, typically because even a return game the following doesn’t net the same profits. The casual fan is less likely to go to his/her team’s game if the school is playing a squad that isn’t a household name.
But why is all this important now?
Simply, the base proposal used by the SCHSL is not balanced. Yes, each of the five classes have 42 teams.
But Classes AAAAA and AA will have seven regions; Classes AAAA and AAA will have eight; and Class A will have six. None of those divisions includes across-the-board similarity in region size.
It means that some of the basic scheduling principals used by coaches and athletics directors for years are going to be tested. The idea of playing all non-region games in the first half of the season and all region games in the second half of the season likely won’t work mathematically anymore.
Schools will try, and many will succeed in keeping that status quo. However, at some point, quirks in the process could land to some schools playing non-region games earlier and earlier.
It’s with that in mind that the 12 coaches in The Sun News’ coverage area were asked a series of five questions.
Overwhelmingly, they are against a change, as football coaches typically are when it comes to something that would shake up the established order.
However, their reasons for why scheduling practices are the way they are is telling in terms of preparation and long-term growth – in the planning phases, on the field and financially.
Examining the responses
Would you be against or in favor of a scheduling shift that requires some of your region games to take place in the first half of the season?
3 Mixed opinion
2 In favor
“I don’t mind playing region games early in the season. I do think that it forces you to practice more in the summer and spend less time working out in the weight room.” – Tyronne Davis, Waccamaw
“I would like to see larger team regions (8-10 teams). If that is the case, more games [will] have impact weekly on [the] outcome of [the] region championship.” – Doug Illing, Socastee
“I think it would help from an injury standpoint. Maybe if you have a kid that hurts his ankle late in the season, then that way he could have at least played a few region games with the healthy ankle. Also, in our case, it may be good to get the Dillon game over with early, so we don’t have that freight train coming at us late in the year.” – Jody Jenerette, Aynor
What are the benefits of the way the region schedules are predominantly set up now? How about the downside?
“Region schedules now allow you to get your team more developed before going into a region game. As a coach, you are able to learn more about your team before playing in a region game.” – Bradley Adams, Georgetown
“The downside is by not scheduling all the region games at one time, you start to guard against injuries and don’t play players for certain games. For example, if my last game was a non-region game and I was in the playoffs the next week, I would not play my starters for that game.” – Tyronne Davis, Waccamaw
“[The] downside is that you have all your region games before the playoffs; if you mixed the schedule you could allow for a lower-profile game before playoffs. You have to make sure all your players stay healthy through non-region games.” – Tony Sullivan, Green Sea Floyds
“You want to play your region games at the end because the non-region schedule is just practice for those games.” – Marc Morris, Carolina Forest
“I would think it makes it a lot easier to schedule non-conference games if they all have to be in the first part of the year.” – Robby Brown, St. James
To the best of your knowledge, has a change to have any region games played earlier in the season been brought up among the coaches in your region? If so, what was the result of those discussions?
All 12 said it either had not been discussed or at least it did not happen to the best of their knowledge.
Typically, region games are some of the most well-attended, at least in this area. In your mind, would spreading out the region games help or hurt gate receipts over the course of the season?
“I think those late-season games are well attended because they are later in the season when the weather is cooler. Plus homecoming/parent night events are later in the year.” – Jody Jenerette, Aynor
“For me in our region, I think it would hurt our gates. The teams in our region are so far away. Our non-region gates are better than the region gates. Also, you are able to build rivals with local teams.” – Tyronne Davis, Waccamaw (NOTE: The Georgetown County schools are under a district mandate to play each other in order to help non-region attendance.)
What would the impact be on high school athletes of spreading out region games more throughout the season?
“I can’t see any impact. But if we made larger regions, players and coaches would be challenged to bring [their] best effort every week with a purpose to [affect the] outcome [the] region championship.” - Doug Illing, Socastee
“Don’t think it would matter to high school athletes.” – Chuck Jordan, Conway
“I don’t think it would have any effect. It’s a players’ game and it’s our jobs as coaches to have our teams prepared.” – Blair Hardin, North Myrtle Beach