Football coaches don't get too concerned over factors they can't control.
The cold weather that's moved in? Everyone is dealing with it. Teams having their state championship games delayed an extra week? The opponent is in the same situation.
But when the state championship gets moved from a neutral site and is turned into a true road game where the opponent is on their own turf, that gets coaches a little upset. Add in stadiums not having enough seats, logistics with travel and ticket sales, it's got coaches doing a full juggling act.
Six of the eight GHSA state championship games were postponed to this Friday because of several inches of snow that fell in the metro Atlanta area. The games were supposed to be held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, the contingency plan called for the higher-seeded team in each match-up to host the game this weekend, and the GHSA stuck to that plan. They tried rescheduling it for another weekend at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and looked at Georgia State Stadium. Yet, they felt it was best to go with the plan that's been in place for some time.
Now Blessed Trinity and Hapeville Charter are two of the six teams that had their championships become road games. For Hapeville Charter, they have to travel about 120 miles to Rabun County because a coin-toss decided where they would play since both teams are No. 1 seeds.
Head coach Winston Gordon called-in via phone for the toss and ended up on the losing side. Gordon wishes the GHSA would have pushed to keep the championships at a neutral site.
"I think you definitely have to look at those things and put those things in place for these teams," Gordon said. "I would have liked for the kids to have the opportunity to experience the Benz, and that’s what you play for. But, these are some of the things we’ll look at at the end of the year when they go into executive sessions, and I think they’ll make the necessary changes to move us forward as a state in football in Georgia."
Hapeville will have early release for its student body at 1 p.m. That should give them enough time to fight Atlanta traffic and make it to the Georgia-North Carolina border by 7:30 p.m. The school has also reserved two charter buses to take the fans who purchased tickets through the school. There are roughly 100 seats on the two buses.
"I think the biggest thing for us is the proximity for our people. Lot of people who would get off on a Friday can't make a 7:30 kickoff at Rabun," Gordon said. "I don’t think [our fans will be] in full because they’re not able to make it, but I think we’ll have a good contingency of people there."
Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin had similar sentiments about fans fighting Friday traffic, but his fan base is fortunate that they're only 15 miles from Marist. However, those two schools are fighting a totally different issue.
The two schools sold a combine 6,000 tickets for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Marist's stadium, Hughes-Spalding Stadium, has a capacity of about 4,700, according to the school. Marist is having to bring in extra bleachers to make sure everyone who bought a ticket at $22 will have somewhere to sit. Marist is promising that everyone will have a seat.
But that doesn't fix the fact that Marist is still getting an advantage with its home crowd.
"Georgia High School Association made a commitment to play at a neutral site, and I think we should have honored that," McFarlin said. "Especially given the fact that you’ve got a lot of locations like Georgia State and McEachern High School that are willing to host."
GHSA Director Dr. Robin Hines said they looked into finding a neutral site, but since the GHSA had posted a contingency plan ahead of time, they wanted to stick to it.
"This was moving fast, we had to make these decisions as quickly as we could make those decisions," Hines told 11Alive. "[Changing the plan] would be a really difficult thing to try and pull off in a short period of time. All of the schools weren’t willing to do that, they wanted to stick with the contingency plan we had in place. Integrity is important, that’s what we said we were going to do, and that’s what we did."
McFarlin feels the contingencies in the future will change after this year to not only try and secure a neutral site, but also to involve the schools in the process more. McFarlin said the schools were only involved after the GHSA made its decision, and he feels they jumped the gun.
"It’s easy for all of us to second guess decisions. No one saw this snow storm coming and everyone was disappointed," McFarlin said. "The thing about a neutral site, the championship game, it’s exactly that. It should be an equal thing for all parties concerned."
The bright side to all of this: an extra week of practice. Both coaches can get on board with that.
"It’s great to be with these seniors one more time. These are lasting memories, and I think these kids enjoy it just as much as us," Gordon said.
"Marist is a team that if you can get two weeks to prepare for them, that really helps," McFarlin said.
The state championships getting postponed has caused headaches for everyone in some way or another. But it will be worthwhile for whomever gets to lift the state championship trophy when it's all said and done.