By David Purdum / For the AJC
Camden County won a $20,000 coin flip, when Norcross athletic director Kirk Barton incorrectly chose tails Saturday at a remote country store in Soperton.
The result has Norcross headed five hours south to Kingsland this week for a AAAAAA quarterfinal playoff game at Camden County.
The Georgia High School Association has been using a coin flip to decide home field in playoff games between teams with the same seeding for more than a decade. Both Norcross and Camden County are 1-seeds after winning region championships.
According to Georgia Football Historians Association, Camden coach Jeff Herron has taken his team on 12 trips to the Georgia Dome during his 12-year career. He knows how much a 300-mile, overnight trip costs.
“It is an extremely expensive thing, when you have to travel five or six hours like we do or like Norcross will have to this time. It’s a heavy financial burden on a school,” said Herron. “When we travel to Atlanta, we stay at a very cheap place and eat probably four meals total. But we’re still probably going to spend $20-to-$25,000 just on buses, food and lodging.”
Camden County athletic director Gary Blount said Herron’s estimate may even be a little low.
“It’s probably in the $24-to-$28,000 range,” said Blount, who met Barton for the coin flip in the parking lot of the country store off an exit on I-16. “We don’t let Coach Herron go anymore. He was like 1-8 for his career. He’s a better football coach than coin flipper.”
Norcross coach Keith Maloof said the face-to-face coin flip is silly and was happy to allow Barton to make the call for Norcross. He did not offer his athletic director any advice on whether to take heads or tails.
“I didn’t give Coach Barton any instructions,” Maloof said with a laugh. “I told people after the [second-round win over South Gwinnett] game to go over there and rub on him for good luck. It didn’t work.”
In Barton’s defense, he was playing hurt and was in the hospital early this week after undergoing a heart stent procedure. Maloof said Monday that Barton was doing well.
It’s the second trip to South Georgia for Norcross this season. The Blue Devils traveled to Moultrie for a preseason scrimmage against Colquitt in August.
This week, Maloof plans to leave early Thursday afternoon and have an evening walk-through in Kingsland. He will try to keep his team in its normal football routine Friday, leading up the game.
The GHSA began using coin flips to decide the home field in the early 2000s, said executive director Ralph Swearngin. The GHSA had previously predetermined home teams by using a rotating bracket with the top team in a matchup getting the home field one year and the bottom team the next.
Coaches didn’t like that, and coin flips were instituted as the deciding factor.
Swearngin is not aware of any movement to eliminate the coin flip from the equation, but says ideas have been floated around about how to limit the travel required. Video conference technology like Skype is one option. Coaches are now using online technology to swap video as well, so there really is little need for a face-to-face meeting.
“It was actually suggested that I do it up here in the office, but, with all the conspiracy theorists out there, I thought better of it,” said Swearngin. “What happens with coaches in every sport, they like or dislike a rule based on the last time the rule came into play for or against them. As long as they haven’t had a bad recent experience with a rule, they’re not in the mood to change anything.”
So for now, high school teams will have their playoff fates decided by a flip of the coin, with thousands of dollars on the line in some cases.
“I don’t know that I have a better solution, but I think there’s probably one out there,” said Herron. “There’s so much riding on it, and it does almost feel incredible that we would let the flip of a coin decide that.”