The addition of a fifth high school football team using Cramton Bowl this fall has created a cramped playing schedule that forces each school to consider games on Saturday, an option the coaches adamantly oppose.
Like it or not, the options are few. Starting this fall, each school has at least one Saturday game on their schedule and the options for 2015 are worse on weekends where four or all five schools will have the same home dates.
“It actually worked out better than we expected, to be honest,” G.W. Carver coach Billy Gresham said. “I was thinking with five schools and one establishment and schools in different classifications, I thought it was going to be really, really tough. We had problems in the past when we were all in the same classification.”
The problem starts with the addition of a new classification (7A) this fall and Sidney Lanier’s drop to Class 5A, putting two schools in 6A, two in 7A and one in 5A, creating three different sets of region foes as well. Instead of the teams playing each other, allowing for two schools in the same location, there will be additional region rivals to consider.
“They did the best they could to try and split the schedule up,” Robert E. Lee coach Tyrone Rogers said. “There’s no way around it with five public schools playing at Cramton Bowl, so every team has to play on Saturday. Unfortunately, we have to play the defending state runners-up (Auburn High) on a Saturday.”
Montgomery Public School athletic director Brandon Dean put together the schedule on Super Bowl Sunday and the coaches met with city officials the following day, but it has taken another month to finalize the schedule as the coaches fought against the idea of playing on Saturday, which will drastically affect attendance, and therefore revenue, for the cash-strapped programs.
“I hate to have to play on Saturday,” Jeff Davis coach Lee Carter said. “I understand there’s a scheduling issue with five schools trying to play on one site, but I don’t like the idea that I have to play on Saturday. I only have four home games this year and one of my other games is with Robert E. Lee, and with all home games involving city schools, we have to split the gate 50-50.
“And we play on Saturday the same day as Alabama State plays its home opener with Tennessee State? Even if we do play it earlier, who wants to go to two games? That’s their first home game and everybody will start tailgating on Friday night. We proposed to play two games on a Friday at Cramton Bowl, but that was shot down because we don’t have enough (police) officers to work it.”
Dean tried to juggle the dates but ran out of room.
He discovered late last week that a proposed Saturday game involving Park Crossing High could not be played on the same day as the Alabama High School Athletic Association playoff meeting (Nov. 1), so the Thunderbirds’ game with Jemison will have to be played on Oct. 31 at another location.
“Coach Dean put that together, and we came to the table, and the whole thing was done in about 15 minutes,” said Park Crossing principal Rocky Smith, who represented the new school at the meeting. “If there was a short week with some teams playing on Saturday and then on the following Thursday, they would ask if we could flop. Sure, we can flop. Right now, I think it’s as good as it can be.
“Next year, it gets a little hairier because one weekend, there are four teams playing away and next year when you flip that over, there are four teams playing on three days. But this year, it’s fine. We may have a little wrinkle on our Saturday playing date, but we’ll get it worked out.”
Park Crossing is negotiating with a local private school for the use of its field on Oct. 31, something all of the schools will have to consider in the future.
“Somebody’s going to make some money, one of these area stadiums,” Gresham said.
On Monday, a last-ditch effort to play doubleheaders on Friday was turned down by city officials.
“It’s always going to be us going to Saturdays with five teams now,” said city facilities director Rob Hollingshead. “There’s really no way out of it. With everybody playing different region games, it’s probably impossible to say you’re not going to play on Saturday.
“With people coming from out of town, how does that affect them getting to the ballpark and how do we get people in and out of there? And if you start late, you’re getting people home at a later hour. We’ll let the coaches decide if they want to swap or move games (with each other). Our main thing was safety. We don’t want kids getting out there and driving home after midnight. You can’t predict when a game is going to get over with.
“I know people don’t want to play on Saturday, but that’s what we’re going to have to do and continue to have to do. I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy, but it’s doable.”
The schools could consider moving home-and-home dates with their opponents or simply allowing the opponents to “buy” another home date. Carter said coaches considered playing at ASU Stadium but couldn’t afford the $7,000 rental fee the Hornets were charging.
“With just four home games, we can’t afford to go to Enterprise,” Carter said. “You have the cost of travel, and we have to feed the players. If you got $3,500, that’s not worth it. We’ll have to look at another site to play them. We tried that last year with Stanhope Elmore, and no one would allow us near their facility.”
Another challenge for Dean was trying to juggle the schedule to include city rivals, but four of those games landed on Thursday (as opposed to three on the more popular Friday playing date).
“It has to match, when they have common bye weeks,” said Dean, referring to non-conference dates. “In some cases we were able to match up the rivalries, but in some cases they just didn’t match up.”
Park Crossing, which draws its enrollment from zones previously belonging to Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis, has neither team on the 2014 schedule.
“Everybody made phone calls to see if we could get the city schools, but a couple of people optioned out,” Rogers said.
G.W. Carver’s schedule left off Sidney Lanier, the most traditional and popular rival for the Wolverines.
“It has been a long classic,” Gresham said. “Hopefully, we can get it back in a couple of years. It just didn’t fit in with our schedules. The week I had open, he didn’t have open. The week he had open, I didn’t have the week open. You want to play all the city schools.”
With four of the five schools on the road the weeks of Sept. 12 and Sept. 26, the problem will only get worse in 2015 when the home-and-home schedule flips, creating four home games on both weekends.
Without changes, that means two schools will have to play a Saturday doubleheader on those dates.
“When we look at being fair, I think all of the teams have the same number of Friday night games, all of the teams have the same number of Thursday night games and we all play one time on Saturday,” Smith said. “I understood some of the reasons behind the moving, the shifting and special requests. Next year, we’ll all go back to the drawing board and try to lay it all out again. We’ll probably get a better draw on one or two weekends and a worse draw on one or two weekends.”