IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) is demanding the Georgia High School Association revise a GHSA bylaw intended to keep its schools from playing the Ascenders in football.
IMG, ranked No. 4 in the Super 25 football rankings, plays No. 2 Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.
When the GHSA’s executive committee adjusted bylaw 2.62-b this month, executive committee members said the change was made to prevent GHSA teams from playing IMG Academy in the future.
The change to the bylaw added that “member schools shall compete, practice or scrimmage only against other member schools, or against schools who are full members, with no restrictions of the State Association in their respective states.”
Greg Phillips, the co-managing director of IMG Academy, sent a letter this week to the GHSA that says the intent of the changed bylaw is based on the incorrect statement that IMG is not a full member of the Florida High School Athletic Association. The letter also mentions that the GHSA’s bylaw might be in violation of state or federal statutes because it restricts schools from playing IMG without any legally allowable justification.
Phillips said the bylaw would hurt Georgia student-athletes and deprive them of the chance to play a national-caliber team such as IMG.
“If it (the bylaw change) truly was intended for us at IMG … it was ill-conceived,” Phillips said. “The wording doesn’t at all align with the stated intent. If you look at the background of what was stated, it certainly isn’t best for student-athletes. And how the wording is interpreted, it could apply to a number of other schools around the country. Coaches could be prohibited from competing in national events … across all sports. The hope is this would go away.”
Reached by USA TODAY Sports, GHSA executive director Gary Phillips (no relation to Greg) said, “We have no comment at this time.”
IMG has several players from Georgia, including elite defensive end Robert Beal, who transferred from Norcross. Kirk Barton, the athletic director for Norcross, presented the wording change to the committee, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post.
“Now (GHSA schools) can only play schools that are members of their own high school association in their state and they have to be full members with no restrictions, so IMG cannot play teams from Georgia again,” Barton told the Daily Post. “In Florida, (IMG has) several restrictions. They aren’t a member school. They’re only a member in the fact that they pay dues. They can’t go to the playoffs. They can’t play in the state championship.”
IMG’s Phillips said that Barton was incorrect in saying that IMG wasn’t a full member of the FHSAA (something the FHSAA pointed out when the story broke). Though the Ascenders don’t play in the FHSAA playoffs, that’s their own choosing, not the FHSAA’s.
This isn’t the first time IMG has seen resistance since it began playing football in 2013 as a nationally based program with players from multiple states and countries.
IMG’s Phillips said that while his school is unique, it is not a model that others can easily replicate so there’s no basis to the fears by some that academies such as IMG would threaten the foundation of high school football.
“This is a tough model,” Phillips said. “We’re fortunate that it’s been very successful here, but this didn’t build overnight. If you look at all the requirements of building this to deliver the highest quality program, it’s such a huge undertaking, that if folks do the math, they can see that’s not an easy build out.”
Ultimately, Phillips said, the choice of whether to play IMG should be up to opposing schools.
“Nobody is required to schedule us but there are so many coaches and students who do understand the benefits and do want to compete with us,” he said. “All we want is for schools to be allowed to play anyone they choose.”