Run to state pays off differently according to school

Southside Christian has played in front of big crowds for all three of its home playoff games, helping the school's bottom line.

Southside Christian has played in front of big crowds for all three of its home playoff games, helping the school’s bottom line.

The clock hits zero, the celebration begins and players recite the usual cliches about the hard work paying off.

Over the next eight days, seven more state champions will be crowned on football fields at Benedict College and the University of South Carolina. Indeed there’s a payoff in the satisfaction each championship brings to the players, coaches, fans and community.

As for a financial payoff? Green is in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re making money that we didn’t plan on making,” said Mike Johnson, Southside Christian School’s athletic director. “Being the one seed, having three home games, that was money we didn’t plan on having in our budget.”

The Sabres, who had never won a playoff game before this year, kept on winning and will play away from home in the postseason for the first time Saturday, when they battle Allendale-Fairfax at noon in the Class A Division I championship game at Benedict College.

Circumstances were far different last year for Hillcrest, which, like Southside Christian, had never been to a state final in football.

“I’ve heard people tell me that back in the early 2000s, when all the championships were at one site, they would have it at Carolina, and the schools would walk away with $25,000, $22,000, $23,000 from the one game,” Hillcrest athletic director Tommy Bell said.

“Our combined playoff run last year for four games was $18,000.”

Times have changed. Bell had heard of the days when there were four classes and five championship games (including the Big 16), all of them in one weekend at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the teams split the pot.

In recent years, the Class A and AA games (four in all) have been held in one weekend at Benedict College and the AAA and AAAA games (three in all) at USC.

In addition, the six teams involved in the AAA and AAAA games did not split the intake evenly. Instead, the highest percentage went to the classification that had made the most money up to that point in the playoffs, which last year was AAA, followed by AAAA Division I and then AAAA Division II.

Last year at USC, Bell said, ticket sales amounted to $128,000, and the net after expenses was $62,000. Hillcrest’s cut was $10,531. That was by far the biggest cut of all for Hillcrest.

The Rams played at home in the first round against Ashley Ridge. Whereas during the regular season the home team keeps the entire gate, during the playoffs, the money is divvied up.

The South Carolina High School League takes 20 percent off the top. Then, after expenses, such as security and officials, the remainder is split between both schools. Hillcrest’s cut wound up to be $2,332.

The Rams played at home again in the second round, against Lexington, and the school’s cut was $2,966.

In the state semifinal, however, Hillcrest had to travel across the state to Fort Dorchester. Bell said the school’s football booster club spent $3,500 on a charter bus, and the athletic department spent $2,079 to get the band and cheerleaders to the game.

“Some people say, ‘Why did you pay for the band? The band should pay for themselves.’ Well, that’s just not how we do it here,” Bell said.

Hillcrest’s cut from the Fort Dorchester game was $3,001. It’s a game that resulted from Class AAAA’s cross-bracketing, which creates many such long-distance matchups.

Beginning with the 2016-17 school year, the High School League is moving to a five-classification system with no cross-bracketing.

“That came down as one of the recommendations from the Executive Committee,” Bell said, “that you would have an Upper State champion and a Lower State champion in every sport, and no more cross-bracketing.”

That will alleviate some of the financial burden, but as High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton said, you still might wind up with a situation such as this year’s Class AAA Upper state final, which had Myrtle Beach making a 215-mile trip to Midland Valley.

“I don’t know that you do that well in the playoffs,” Singleton said. “You probably do better in the regular season. Your games are more local. When you get to the playoffs, you’ve got people traveling long distances, and it’s sometimes hard to have that big of a following.

“Whereas, if you’re successful in the regular season, you’re probably going to have more people show up during that time — until late in the playoffs, of course.”

On average, that could be the case. What is beneficial, however, is a string of home games.

“We were a top seed, so that certainly helped that we got to host all those games leading all the way up until the state finals,” said St. Joseph’s Catholic School athletic director R.J. Beach, who was the AD at Christ Church during the Cavaliers’ run of four consecutive state championships.

“But because they had morning games, they would go the night before, so you ended up paying for hotel rooms down in Columbia and meals for everybody involved, and that certainly took a big hit of the money that you received back. And again, that was a choice for me. We felt that that was the best way of handling it so the guys were well-rested. But that’s a decision you’ve got to make.

“I would say we made some money on it, and if we had decided to not stay in hotels and go down that morning, we would have made a lot more.”

Johnson said Southside Christian has benefited from both regular-season success — the Sabres went 9-1 after never winning more than seven games in a season — and the three home playoff games.

“Our stadium’s been packed at all three playoff games,” he said. “It’s been that way probably the last half of the season since we’ve been really good. You win, people show up. They want to see you.

“It’s extra money, and let’s face it, everybody knows football and basketball are the revenue-generating sports for everybody’s school, whether you be private or public, so you want as many fans as you can get in the seats.”

Johnson said his school made about $1,400 in the first round and $1,600 in the second round. The Upper State cut had yet to be determined.

Bell said when Hillcrest made it to the final, it added to the school’s purse but also to its expenses. He said it cost $2,400 to transport the team to Columbia and $1,259 to transport the band and cheerleaders.

Likewise, the Rams’ 47-17 victory over Dutch Fork added to the expense when it came to championship rings. Bell said Greenville County School District policy is the school pays up to $100 per ring, which Hillcrest did, and the player picked up the rest of the tab.

Still, with about 80 rings to purchase, that amounted to another $8,000.

“It was an amazing experience,” Bell said. “But now that (the classes are) all split up, now that travel costs have gone up, at least in Hillcrest High School’s experience, it’s not like we were sitting around with extra cash.

“But we would gladly sign up to do it again in a heartbeat.”

Victory remains the ultimate payoff.

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