The Georgia High School Association released its region alignments for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years on Dec. 3 and almost instantly, area football coaches were on their phones trying to solidify their non-region schedules.
Aside from travel concerns, game day matchups and other things associated with region realignments, nailing down the non-region portion of the football schedule becomes of paramount importance for many coaches because if a coach waits too long, there may not be enough teams available to play to fill out an entire 10-game schedule.
Some coaches, like Kennesaw Mountain’s Andy Scott, got started with his non-region before the GHSA’s announcement on alignments.
“We started the week after the (regular) season was over,” Scott said. “We started contacting schools and have sent out contracts already.”
The GHSA slotted the Mustangs into an 8-team Region 4AAAAAA along with many of the other west Cobb schools. According to the GHSA, however, concerns regarding the alignment in Class AAAAA could mean changes in the Class AAAAAA alignment as some teams could move up to the higher classification when the GHSA meets on Tuesday.
In the meantime, Kennesaw Mountain has already scheduled Sprayberry, Mountain View and Douglas County for its first three non-region games. Osborne is also later on schedule.
“It’s a mad dash to get those non-region games done, otherwise you could be playing a team from across the state or against a program that really doesn’t test you the way you’d want.
“Depending on a school’s situation, the high-level schools can wait for the big events and big games to fill their schedules. We’re trying to build a program, so we want to get games where we can compete in. As a fairly new staff here, this non-region schedule helps build our team prior to our region slate.”
Different factors go into how a coach decides on a non-region schedule. The widely-held perspective, however, is to simply schedule against a competitive team you have a chance at beating. Others look to schedule a team that could earn money for the program and provide big gate receipts while some may choose to play a team they know they should beat.
“I’m looking for games where my team can compete and work on things and we have a chance to win,” said Campbell coach Harris Rainbow, who’s Spartans were slotted into the 8-team Region 3AAAAAA. “We need three non-region games to fill our schedule and we want to be selective.
“Our old region was tough, and our new region will be tough too. We’re hoping that having played in a tough region that will help us get ready for the region we’re going into. For our non-region schedule, we’re looking for games that help us improve as a program.”
Osborne, which hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 1994, is in a unique situation having been moved from Class AAAAA to the highest classification and placed in a region with the likes of McEachern, Hillgrove, Marietta and North Cobb among others.
According to Cardinals coach Xarvia Smith, as soon as the GHSA announced Osborne’s move up in classification, principal Joshua Morreale made the decision that the school would stay in Region 4AAAAAA but play a non-region football schedule.
“We knew as a program that we’re not ready to match up with those schools,” Smith said. “I don’t think our kids could physically stand with them. We’ll have 40 to 75 kids on the sidelines at times and they’ll have around 100, so we’re going to play a non-region schedule for the next two years and go from there. Hopefully, we’ll have the program turned around by then.”
Osborne’s decision has left it scrambling to find teams to fill its schedule since most other schools play region games.
“It’s been very difficult having to find teams and weeks that they can play,” Smith said. “Ninety-five to 99 percent of the schools are in regions and they fill out their non-region schedules at the beginning of the season.
“Right now, we have seven regular season games lined up, including Harrison and Kennesaw Mountain, and we’re hoping to get 10. We’ll scrimmage South Cobb. We’re trying to find games for the month of October, which is when a lot of region games are going.”
Smith has fielded calls from much bigger programs for those October slots, but his program wouldn’t physically match up with them.
“I’ve had schools in Augusta inquire, but I don’t think we can go that far,” Smith said. “The farthest one I believe have interest in is Johnson of Gainesville, so it’s been a difficult process.”
Reclassification has created a ripple effect for other teams as Osborne’s decision to play a non-region schedule has made things problematic for teams like McEachern.
The Indians played in a nine-team region the last two years and only had to find two non-region games to fill their regular season. Because the Corky Kell Classic guaranteed that one of those spots would be taken, the Indians only had to find one other non-region game.
Because of Osborne’s non-Region 4AAAAAA slate, the Indians have six region games the next two years and need to find three more non-region games to round out the schedule. McEachern will play Mill Creek in the 2014 Kell Classic.
The problem is, some schools don’t want to play a team the caliber of McEachern, so the Indians are possibly left with a full non-region slate of games against teams who regularly challenge for state championships.
“We have three open dates now, and we can’t find anybody to play us,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “Everybody has different ideas with who they seek out and they want to play competitive games and games you want to win, but it’s different for each school, including us.
“When we had two non-region games, we wanted to play the toughest games we could find. But now, I don’t want to play four state-level games in the first four weeks. Even though that’s not what I want, that’s all we can find because there some schools that don’t want to play us.
“It’s challenging filling out a non-region schedule. It’s a minefield.”