Classic headache confronts coaches for 2009 football

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 8, 2009

It’s the height of the high school basketball season and soccerteams are starting the meat of their district schedules. Areabaseball and softball teams are starting preseason practice.Meanwhile, in the football field house, coaches are wrestling with2009 schedules that won’t begin until eight months from now.

Football is considered a revenue sport at most high schools, soscheduling non-region/district games of interest are mostimportant. Add the new classification system to the mix, throw inan earlier jamboree date and an earlier Classic Game earmarked bythe Mississippi High School Activities Association, and you have acaldron of simmering stew.

Wisps of smoke have been seen rising from field houses and somegroans have been overheard if you listen closely. Many coaches aresteamed but a few are pleased with the latest change in footballscheduling.

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Under the new MHSAA format, football teams can participate in ajamboree Friday, Aug. 14. That’s 11 days after practice officiallybegan Aug. 3. And that’s 5 days after teams were allowed to donfull equipment.

“My kids won’t be used to hitting and being hit,” groaned alocal coach. “They’re more susceptible to injuries.”

Larry Thomas, MHSAA Associate Director, pointed out that theAug. 21 jamboree format would allow each team only two quarters ofaction. After all, they’ve only been in pads five days.

“You don’t have to play a jamboree and you aren’t required toplay a Classic Game,” Thomas pointed out.

Asked about the heat factor, Thomas said most football teamswould have been participating in offseason drills since June 1.That’s also known as strength and conditioning drills, four or fivedays a week.

“They probably have been practicing during the summer,” saidThomas. “Football players are in better shape than any othersport.”

The Classic Game, scheduled Aug. 21, has drawn some loud howlsof protest. “It’s too early and it’s too hot,” growled one veterancoach. “My kids ain’t in good enough shape.”

Ol’ coach has a strong point. Last year, the MHSAA passed a rulerequiring all football games to start 30 minutes later, 7:30 p.m.,in August and September. It was an attempt to reduce the heatfactor that players encounter during those humid, sweat-soakedFriday nights of the early football season.

The Classic Game will grant 30 percent of the gate receipts tothe MHSAA’s Building Fund. That’s a noble cause but the MHSAAalready has a new, beautiful facility located in Clinton. Schoolsare allowed to deduct the cost of game officials, security andother employees required to conduct a home game, before shellingout 30 percent of the remaining profit.

We know some coaches who have said they won’t play a ClassicGame to help the MHSAA line its pockets. Others feel opposite.

“We have to play a Classic Game to keep up with the otherteams,” explained Loyd Star coach Ryan Ross. “Otherwise, we willfall behind.”

Ross sends his Class 2A Hornets against Class 3A powerhouseFranklin County on Friday night, Aug. 21. Both communitiesenthusiastically support their schools so it should draw a biggate. The concession stand will sell a ton of soft drinks and icewater, too.

The reclassification system has created some major travel costsfor the new Class 5A schools, most of them former Class 4A members.Brookhaven, for example, is faced with the prospect of distant,region road games at Wayne County, Picayune and Stone County thisyear. Total up the BHS traveling expenses from 2008 and double thatfigure for 2009.

Class 6A, the newest classification, is the former 32-member 5A.Both classes start their playoff season a week later, Nov. 13, thanthe other four classes that start Nov. 6. This means if Class 5A or4A teams play a Classic Game Aug. 21, they must have an open dateduring the regular season to comply with MHSAA rules of 11regular-season games.

As you know, many football coaches loathe open dates.

Ole Brook head coach and athletic director Tucker Peavey hascreated a consistent region title contender in 4A during his sevenyears at the helm. For sure, the Panthers’ membership in Class 5Awill be a major challenge.

Ole Brook kicks off its season Aug. 28, against Franklin County.Following are non-region games against Class 6A Clinton and 4ALawrence County.

Lawrence County’s Mike Davis coached his Cougars to the Region6-4A championship in 2008. He doesn’t mind sharing his opinion.

“I don’t like doing a Classic game,” said Davis. “The jamboreeswere good for getting you ready for the opening game.”

Davis said the Classic Game, coming a week earlier than lastyear, greatly reduced the amount of preseason practice timedesignated for work on basic fundamentals. To play a regular game,all aspects must be fine-tuned prior to kickoff.

The LCHS Cougars kick off their campaign Aug. 28 at 6A WarrenCentral. Davis also plans to play Ole Brook, Tylertown andVicksburg in non-region action.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O. BOX551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mail