Under bylaw changes approved by the Georgia High School Association's executive committee Monday, the four current Class AAAAAA schools in Forsyth County will get reclassified into what the committee and those involved are calling the “Big 44.” Central could be joining, too.
In a 47-10 vote, the committee agreed to take the top 10 percent of schools in the GHSA, based on enrollment, and place them in a new tier to help separate schools with enrollment numbers closer to the 3,000 range than the 2,000 range. New regions will be decided in January, with change officially taking place at the start of the 2016 school year.
Lambert, South Forsyth, North Forsyth and West Forsyth all fall well within the top tier, while Forsyth Central will be on the cusp of the highest classification. North Forsyth athletic director Nathan Turner, also a member of the executive committee as a representative of Region 6-AAAAAA, hopes Central will make the cut and join league with the rest of the county's public schools.
“We'd love to have Forsyth Central in there. They're our rival,” Turner said.
Central currently participates in Class AAAAA, while the other Forsyth County public schools are in the same region in Class AAAAAA.
In 2014-15, Central recorded an enrollment of 1,913, which ranked 53 out of 450 schools in the GHSA. The 45th team—or final team in 10 percent bracket—was Johns Creek with an enrollment of 2,000. According to Turner, Central has just over 2,100 students this year and will report those numbers, along with all other schools, to the Georgia Department of Education in the fall. Once those numbers are distributed back to the GHSA, new regions will be created. Eight regions will exist under the Big 44 umbrella, and schools that classify just south of the enrollment cut off will have the option to petition into the Big 44 to preserve rivalries and logistic-friendly match ups. No schools that fall into the top-10 percent can leave the top tier.
Assuming the Forsyth schools are put into the same region, it's unlikely the Fulton County schools—Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek and Northview—remain. Some of them may not make the cut into the top tier. With ten teams, Region 6-AAAAAA was the largest in the classification the last two years.
“The North Fulton schools have grown, but not at the pace of the Forsyth schools,” Turner said. “They'll be on the bubble, like Alpharetta, Roswell and Milton. Chattahoochee might not get in.”
The new template will mean as much as eight state champions will be named for any given sport under the GHSA. There will be 32 playoff spots for each classification for state championships except Class A-Public and Class A-Private, though those classifications will now have 24-team state playoff brackets instead of 16 from past years.
For Class AAAAAA, roughly 77 percent of teams will qualify for the state playoffs. Under the last classification, there were 64 teams in Class AAAAAA, with 50 percent of schools qualifying for state.
Class AA-AAAAA will also be subject to a qualifier under new bylaws that requires schools to move up a classification if at least 3-percent of its population come from outside county lines. The mandate will not effect Forsyth schools, despite being in the top tier, because the county does not allow for out-of-county enrollment.
If any region has less than five teams, the last-place team in that region will not make the state playoffs. Based on how the final alignments are set, any remaining playoff slots would be filled by a power-ranking system, according to Turner.
“I left with mixed emotions,” Turner said. “We have aspirations that all of us can be together, but we're all nervous too
“We'd love to be in a region that draws well with us, like Cherokee schools or the north Fulton schools. We'd really like to stay away from Gwinnett. They have their own identity, we can do our thing, they can do their thing and we can meet in the playoffs.”
By The Numbers:
There are 450 schools in the GHSA. Under the last classification, Class AAAAAA, the state's top tier, had 64 teams, with Region 6-AAAAAA being the largest with 10 schools.
The “Big 44” would take the top-45 schools, or top 10-percent based on enrollment, and spread classes AA-AAAAAA into classes consisting of roughly 60 schools.
Under 2014-15 enrollment, Johns Creek would be the last school in with an enrollment of 2,000. Mill Creek would be the largest at 3,776.
Lambert ranked 12th, South ranked 15th, North ranked 23rd and West ranked 25th.
Central, with a reported enrollment of 1,913, ranked 53rd.
Pinecrest will now be in a classification with 24 playoff teams instead of 16.