Sports Editor Will Hammock
In his conversation with the Daily Post last week, Georgia High School Association executive director Ralph Swearngin made a pretty accurate statement regarding the state basketball playoffs.
Swearngin's words: "I think this is the best we could possibly come up with for this year."
But this version of the best isn't going to make the majority happy.
The GHSA was in a bind for several reasons with this year's basketball playoffs, including the addition of a sixth classification and splitting the Class A schools into public and private divisions, but the most noteworthy to metro Atlanta teams involved the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Duluth venue has the Southeastern Conference Women's Basketball Tournament this week and it also returns for 2014, which puts Gwinnett out of the high school basketball Final Four rotation for the near future. The facility had hosted the high school basketball semifinals and finals in the larger classes, which are heavy with metro Atlanta teams, since 2002. Its location, and multitude of free parking, worked great for Atlanta area schools.
A few active coaches, Tucker boys coach James Hartry and McEachern girls coach Phyllis Arthur, discussed the issue and couldn't feign any sort of excitement that the title games were returning to the Macon Centreplex this season. Hartry said teams and fans were "spoiled" by the Gwinnett venue.
With Gwinnett out of the mix, the GHSA did its best to secure gyms, which is tough in a state whose colleges haven't always been the most accommodating to the high school basketball playoffs. It managed to get Georgia Tech's posh, new McCamish Pavilion for last weekend's Class AAAAAA semifinals, but those teams get a downgrade for the finals with a trip to the Macon Centreplex (built in 1968).
With more time to set up the 2014 high school basketball playoffs, hopefully the GHSA will do better. But the organization needs a little help from venues, too.
Tech is the ideal gym and location, but Swearngin said McCamish isn't available until after 7 p.m. every day but Saturday. Finding a way around that issue, and making Tech a permanent home, would be fitting for the outstanding high school basketball in this state. Fans from everywhere would enjoy visits to Atlanta, with the opportunity to see multiple days in a row of great basketball.
The same can be said for Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum, though it isn't as new or as nice as McCamish. Stegeman hasn't hosted high school basketball playoff games, but Swearngin seemed encouraged by UGA officials' interest in changing that.
Philips Arena would be a great site, too, but like Gwinnett it is at the mercy of concerts and other events, plus NBA scheduling for the Atlanta Hawks.
The colleges are in the same bind. The ACC and SEC schedules have to be worked out before Tech and Georgia can even offer dates for the high school playoffs.
Those roadblocks will keep the GHSA scrambling year to year for state basketball venues, and the organization will continue to do its "best."
That said, Georgia high school basketball deserves better. Let's hope the GHSA and the state's venues can find that solution quickly.
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.