Was the public-private split the right call?

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

One year into “The Split” in football – public and private schools competing for separate state championships – one thing appears to be certain: public school coaches see it as a necessary evil while private school coaches abhor it.

The split was introduced into the landscape of Georgia high school sports, in Class A only, back in February, when the Georgia High School Association’s executive committee voted overwhelmingly to divide public and private schools in post season competition in nearly every sport, including football. The decision was in response to a threat by several public schools, mostly those in South Georgia, to leave the GHSA and either start their own association or join the Georgia Independent Schools Association.

The public schools felt that the ability private schools have to recruit students had become too much of an unfair advantage. As proof, many pointed to the fact that in last year’s semifinals, all four teams were private schools.

But in a grand case of “be careful what you wish for,” some coaches, at both public and private schools are not too sure that splitting was the best way to handle the situation. One byproduct of the split was a power rating system that was utilized to determine the 16 playoff teams on each side. It was criticized by some who thought it did not do an effective job of making sure teams were seeded in proportion to the season they had.

Still, GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin believes the new system served its purpose.

“I think it all worked out pretty smoothly,” Swearngin said. “There were a few difficulties, but I think most of the schools cooperated very nicely and worked together to make it work.”

Swearngin said one issue was the fact that a number of various media outlets produced their own power rankings, which made for some confusion among coaches, parents and fans.

“I think when everything panned out, it worked,” Swearngin said. “If you look at it, for the most part the better teams advanced through the playoffs. So I think it worked.”

But some, even on the public school side, wish public and private schools were still competing against each other.

“I hated for the split to happen, and it bothers me to no end that people think that I was the cause of it. That’s just not the case,” said Lincoln County head coach Larry Campbell. Though he has long been a staunch critic of the advantages he believes private schools have over public schools, he hoped the issues could be resolved without the split. For example, he has been an advocate for a system that was used in the mid 1990s, when private school enrollments were multiplied by 1.5, which pushed several larger private schools in to Class AA.

“There are some fine, fine people at private schools and I’ve competed against them for years,” Campbell said. “But the advantages they have to recruit and bring in players from all over are just too great. The facilities they have are too much of a disadvantage.”

Mt. Zion-Carrollton head coach Ken Holloway supported the split, but wishes there was another way to equalize the playing field.

“I’m not sure if splitting us up is the way to level the playing field,” Holloway said. “I think maybe the 1.5 multiplier or having a limited radius of where they can draw players might work.”

But those on the private school side scoff at the notion of having great advantages. They argue that not all private schools have great facilities and large budgets, and student athletes must pass entrance exams and be able to pass rigorous classes to remain eligible.

“I’ve seen this thing from both sides,” said Mike Earwood, head coach at Our Lady of Mercy for the last three seasons. He is putting that program on the map after building a successful program at Starr’s Mill, a public school in Fayetteville competing in Class AAAA.

“The fact is, we all don’t have great facilities and that sort of thing,” Earwood said. “The bottom line is, it’s about coaches and kids and competing. That’s it.”

Landmark Christian head coach Wayne Brantley is not a fan of the split either. But he has resigned himself to the fact that the system is here, for now.

“I really wish we were still all competing against each other,” Brantley said. “I think considering what they had to deal with, the GHSA did the best they could. Maybe there will be some tweaks made, but the system is what it is.”

26 comments Add your comment


December 14th, 2012
11:38 pm

Good for all. It would be nice for both champions to play each other for a championship, but that is just wishful thinking

mike brown

December 15th, 2012
12:35 am

Larry Campbell got exactly what he wanted. He can spin it anyway he wants, but the bottom line is his kids and he and he coaches can’t man up to beat the privates. I’m sure I’m not the only football fan in the state that was totally thrilled and tickled when his team didn’t make it back to the dome. This was just a case of an old man’s ego getting jabbed in the eye when they couldn’t make it back to the dome. Well, buddy, you got your wish and it really sucks for Class A football. If I sound mean and angry it is because I am. And, I’m a public school guy. I just want to see the best teams playing, and I believe most of the privates play by the rules: they just show you can be a good athlete and a good student, too. .


December 15th, 2012
1:17 am

I’m going to put the politics aside for the moment (because I’m personally and vehemently opposed to the split) and just consider the issue. Having thus qualified my input….I believe the split up of Single A is the single worst thing that could have happened to the classification and here’s why:

- It’s extremely divisive in a classification that already has way more than its share of disruptive issues. As if we don’t have enough argumentative disputes between north GA programs and south GA programs, metro teams and rural teams, and existing prejudices between private schools and public schools, NOW we have to contend with finger pointing and accusations on why the classification is fractured.

- We have no “one” champion! Private and public supporters will each extol the virtues of their respective programs in a vain attempt to crown their champion as the true champion. However, this year at least, the two teams that will be champion have never played each other and thus can’t claim any clear advantage or status, and it wouldn’t be recognized even if they did.

- The Single A championship is being denigrated across several media outlets either by omission of either the public contest or the private contest or by their cursory coverage of both. Single A ball, by virtue of being the smallest (school size) classification, already has to work harder than its 5 sibling classes for attention, but now it has to explain that there are two championship games and why.

I say, and say loudly, put Single A ball back together! Employ a multiplier, make privates play one class up, put a blindfold and shackles on the private school quarterback….anything other than this.

There’s my fifth of a dime.


December 15th, 2012
8:53 am

Not a lot of sentiment for the split out there, and there should not be. GHSA caved on this one and I am waiting to see how long before the decision is rescinded. Think of the inherant hypocrasy here. A is split, but it seems OK for private schools to compete against public in all other classifications. Go figure.


December 15th, 2012
9:09 am

I am all for the multiplier which takes the largest privates and bumps them up a class. This worked well. The problem now is, no matter how good the public school team is, it will be seen as a lesser team. The public school championship is truly only a JV championship, and his isn’t fair to the players.

5150 UOAD

December 15th, 2012
4:49 pm

The Split A private/ public championship games were jokes. ELCA should have played ECI. Dooley Co and Prince Ave had no business being in the Dome.


December 15th, 2012
6:19 pm

Funny how the “booster Clubs” at public schools get a free ride when it comes to recruiting players for public schools. Free housing for parents goes a long way to getting kids to play with certain programs. Yes, it is very illegal but happens extensively. Multipliers will never solve that issue.


December 16th, 2012
7:06 am

Larry Campbell was not the leader in this split. Mark Ledford from Wilcox pushed the split. Sounds as if someone is jealous of the success Campbell has had in his small community. If you really want to know how he does it you should visit the area and maybe you might see why he has won. One day you will be old and surely someone will trash you as you have trashed Larry Campbell.


December 16th, 2012
9:02 am

What can you say…..whiny public schools got there way….one more way they cant excel

Clinton Range

December 16th, 2012
9:20 pm

What is wrong with most of these people, why do they insist on being unfare to kids that live in the same neighborhood and attend that school and fight in the trenches with their neighbors, not with a highly recruited team of stars from everywhere, most these people don’t think about how it must feel to be a kid and not have a fair chance at winning a state title, well I guess not since most of these people live in areas where they recruit players from others also, so sad that we will do anything to win instead of playing fair.


December 17th, 2012
12:20 pm

Clinton that is why the split. I am fine with it and personally don’t want to add a game between the champs because that would give some the feeling that public’s think things are equal. If we are saying they aren’t then that makes as much since as playing the champs from AA-AAAAAA to see who is really the best. My problem with most of the public posters isn’t that they don’t have a point but that they make out like all privates are huge money factories that are just paying anything to win. That is crazy. Both sides probably have a few bad apples but I can tell you 99,99% of us are just worried about making our next tuition payment, where our kid will go to college and most of all the adults we are growing. If the teams win great if not well try again next year. Also, the idea that privates schools have there pick of everyone is wrong. Do you know how many privates there are with in 10-20 miles of each other when you get to the metro areas. Most of the ones who could afford what y’all see as the norm for privates are the one who play AAA. The rest us of us just want to stay in business.

Innocent Bystander

December 17th, 2012
12:24 pm

@ TY……………Regardless of whether or not Larry was the “Leader”, he sure was crying the loudest ! Saying his team couldn’t compete against “The University of Savannah” on camera was his shining moment. You should be so proud. Sounds like a coach who got a little to used of winning, and just didn’t want to work hard enough to stay there. Maybe Ledford pushed it more than Campbell, but Larry did more than his fair share of CRYING ! Where did it get either of them ??????? They would have never made it past ELCA even if they did luck up and make it to the Dome.


December 17th, 2012
12:38 pm

It’s funny that small single A private schools get this rep of recruiting. I’ve watched Single A Ball pretty closely these last few years due to a relative playing at OLM and I was expecting to see big giants walk out on the field for these private schools like Landmark, and Savannah Christian, ELCA, etc. I didn’t see it at all. A very few players on any of these private school teams will play at the next level. What I did see is teams that seemed to be better prepared to play. Well coached teams. I’m disappointed in the split and felt the GHSA caved. Last year there were 4 private schools in the semifinals. This year I really think it would have only been one. (ELCA) The real recruiting or maybe I should say “undue influence” is happening at the larger public schools who seem to reload with better players every year.


December 17th, 2012
2:46 pm

I think we need some cooler heads to come together and figure this thing out. Accusing one side of whining and the other side of cheating is not going to fix anything and will only lead to us perpetuating stereotypes and will assure that we will get stuck with the system that we have now. I have been on both sides of this issue and I have been just as emotional in my responses in the past. However, we need to step back and look at the facts. Assuming everything is done correctly and by the books, private schools do have one huge advantage over the public schools, mainly that a private school is not restricted to accepting students from only one county or municipality. For example, a school in the Atlanta area can draw students from all across metro Atlanta. Or a school in the Athens area can draw kids from several counties. A public school doesn’t have the ability to LEGALLY do that. Also, the cost of a private education used to assure a level playing field because not everyone was able to afford the tuition. However, with scholarship money available through the Georgia GOAL program and other scholarship programs families are able to get their kids into schools that are better for them (which is a good thing btw). I personally felt at the time and still do that the multiplier should have been used in this situation first before taking the drastic measure of splitting the division. A division should have been seen as a last resort and it especially shouldn’t have been done in such a helter skelter approach where they were literally making up rules DURING the season.


December 17th, 2012
2:57 pm

As long as we have winners we will have losers. As long as we have losers we will have finger pointing. And to much of the time that is all we hear here. No change fixes all problem and any fix will cause more and hurt someone else’s feeling. That is how you get rec leagues that just hand out the same trophies to everyone. Lets just move on.


December 17th, 2012
3:29 pm

Why not just have the single A bracket set up with all private schools on 1 side and all public schools on the other and create a private vs public championship game in the Dome? Each team can at least lay claim to their private/public classification status and an overall champion can be crowned. It would only require starting their playoffs the same week as the other classifications.


December 17th, 2012
4:47 pm

Because you still have the problem of if it isn’t fair it isn’t fair and I don’t know why we should play. I don’t think you can have it both ways. You want to keep playing in the regular season to hold travel down. But not play in the playoffs so you can have your own Champ but then lets play one game to see who is better. By the reasoning for the split I see no reason to have a final us and them game.

Son of Waco

December 17th, 2012
5:11 pm

If people on here lived in a true country single A town you would notice they don’t have the resources or abundance of talent to compete with a private school…Private schools always have the best coaches money can buy while most single A schools can’t even afford a real coaching staff…I mean Waco played both ECI and ELCA…ELCA competed with us like a Private school who should not be playing in single A would with us winning 24-19…Now ECI played us like a true single A team i mean we dominated from the start and by halftime it was 42-7…For anyone saying Dooley co. shouldn’t have been there, they top player on defense got injured in the first quarter…For a Real single A school that’s a true killer.

Clinton Range

December 17th, 2012
7:07 pm

Help me to understand why some private schools play in the GISA and some play in the GHSA.
Why do you want to be private but still be part of the public system, it seems to be a conflict of what you are about?


December 17th, 2012
8:42 pm

@Son of Waco…. Don’t run your too much about beating ECI this. Ya’ll are losing alot this year and will probably be rebuilding. We on the other hand are not rebuilding and ya’ll have to come us. It will be a different ball game and Waco will get beat by the single A state champs. If this years game had been the 8th or 9th game of the season, we would have been the undefeated state champs. And i don’t know what game you were watching this year, but the halftime score was 28-7 and the final was 48-22. So don’t make it out to be worse than it was. That loss just made us better all the way around.

Cowardly coaches

December 18th, 2012
4:43 am

The public school coaches had no problems paying the privates as long as they were winning. You heard nothing of unfair advantage and recruiting as long as they were pummeling their competition. This has nothing to do with right and wrong but everything to do with winning. These coaches walk around talking about the character football builds and yet they are cowards to play on the field once things got tough. So change the rules. That teaches their players real character!


December 18th, 2012
4:47 am

its crazy that he keeps using that recruiting argument when Lincoln County has always recruited and snatched players from Columbia County and other surrounding areas(mccormick, sc). The starting running back was at Harlem High and transferred mid season so lets stop with the non-sense


December 18th, 2012
10:36 am

In my opinion not enough consideration is paid to the effect that the Georgia GOAL scholarship program has had on this issue. The private/public debate had subsided to a degree even to the point that the multiplier had been discarded. However, the debate was re-energized in 2008 when low income families were able to send their children to private schools through the use of a scholarship. Let me be clear, I believe that is a good thing for the kids and they are the ones that continue to get lost in this debate as adults are concerned only about their egos and whether “their” team wins or loses. The GOAL scholarships are not just used by athletes and hopefully we will continue to see kids who have little hope for a better future receive great educations and become productive citizens regardless of their career path. However, a byproduct of this program is that it can be and has been used by some private schools to build powerhouse sports programs. (Football is not the only sport, as bad as I hate to admit it!) Therefore, I can understand why some schools were concerned about the future landscape of Class A and ensuring a level playing field in all areas of competition.


December 18th, 2012
10:38 am

I don’t understand why, but the GHSA signed off on that transfer last year.


December 18th, 2012
11:00 am

I know GA is a football only state, but you should see how it is in basketball, where one or two players can change an entire team. For example, Greenforest Christian has less than 100 kids in their ENTIRE school and this is their lineup listed on gaprep..6′6, 6′2, 6′7, 6′3, 6′3, 6′7, 6′9, 6′4,6′1…..if that is truly their actual heights, then how in the WORLD does one of the smallest schools in ALL of class A get a lineup like that…hmmmmmmm

@ athensbball

December 18th, 2012
1:45 pm

Ask your head coach and AD. They know how to do it.