Yet, McEachern and North Gwinnett were doing just that as the final moments of the five-game Saturday schedule of the Corky Kell Classic came to a close.
The Indians and the Bulldogs put on a great show. The 52-49 final was a game that that will go down as one of the best the Classic has ever had.
But is the game really that good when teenagers — whether they are players, cheerleaders, band members or fans — are getting home at 2:30 or 3 a.m.? Or later, if they live in Gwinnett County? The same commute would have been necessary for the McEachern fans, too, if the game had been played at the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, like it has been in most of the previous 23 years of the Classic.
I know I’m not comfortable in downtown Atlanta, or anywhere for that matter at 3 a.m.; I’d be willing to bet most parents wouldn’t be if their kids were, either.
But Saturday’s schedule was doomed before it started.
When Valdosta and Brookwood started the third game, originally set for 2:45 p.m., the Classic was already running more than 30 minutes behind schedule.
By the time McEachern finally took the field – for a game that was supposed to start at 8:45 p.m. — it was a 10 p.m. kickoff.
Yes, Game 4 — Norcross and Tucker — went to overtime and delayed things even further, but that in itself shows the flaw in the way the event was scheduled.
Every year, the Classic schedule has games begin in 3-hour increments, with one exception. The first game is given only 2:45 to be completed.
In today’s high school football landscape where more teams are installing a pass-happy spread offense, the standard Friday night contest lasts a minimum of 3 hours. Add in television with all its TV timeouts and the games move toward 3:15.
Now consider a game like McEachern and North Gwinnett, which both operate from the spread, and the game gets a lot closer to four hours than three. Saturday night/Sunday morning was a perfect example.
The teams combined to run 145 plays and throw 76 passes.
McEachern athletic director Jimmy Dorsey, who was the Indians football coach for 24 years from 1984-2007, said he can remember full seasons when his team didn’t throw 76 passes — including practice.
But Saturday night the Bulldogs’ John Urzua threw for 490 yards and seven touchdowns, and the Indians’ Bailey Hockman threw for 302 yards and four scores. Overall, the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense. Total game time was 3:40.
So, how can the Classic be fixed? It’s really not that hard.
First, eliminate one of the Saturday games. This is the one drawback. Dorsey said it would be a shame if a pair of schools were not able to share in the excitement of the event. That’s true, and I realize the Classic is designed to bring the best high school teams across the state to showcase their talents, but six games over two days should still be plenty.
Second, keep the 9 a.m. kickoff. A couple years ago when the Classic had only four games on Saturday, the first game kicked off at 11:45 a.m. and the last was still finishing after midnight. The 9 a.m. kickoff would eliminate this.
Third, offer a realistic time frame to complete each game. If the first game starts at 9 a.m., start Game 2 at 12:30 p.m. Game 3 could start at 4 p.m. and Game 4 at 7:30 p.m. This would allow more wiggle room in case of injuries, overtimes or weather delays (if the games are outside the Dome), and it would allow everyone affiliated with the final game to get home at a reasonable hour.
And with the earlier start, it would allow more kids who are watching on TV to see the final game. It is hard to imagine McEachern’s youth and middle school players, who are likely to grow up and be part of the roster in the future, staying up long enough to watch any part of a game with a 10 p.m. kickoff.
As much sense as these solutions might make, they are unlikely to happen. It certainly wouldn’t happen next year as teams that participate in the Classic generally sign two-year contracts. But the likely biggest obstacle is TV. Advertisers need to make their money and the only way to do that is to have their product in front of eyeballs enough to justify putting their commercials in the broadcast.
Hopefully, I’m wrong about that. And hopefully everyone involved with the Classic realizes high school football games have no business ending at 1:40 a.m.