Georgia High School Association by-law change to prevent schools from scheduling IMG Academy in the future

Norcross’ Robert Beal (90) closes in on Valdosta quarterback Seth Shuman (17) during last year’s Corky Kell Classic game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

IMG Academy’s football game with Grayson already was noteworthy, with an ESPN broadcast and two teams ranked among USA Today’s top four nationally. Now the matchup also looks like it will be the Florida powerhouse’s last against a Georgia High School Association school.

The GHSA made a minor tweak to its by-laws Monday at its Executive Committee meeting in Macon, essentially enacting a rule that prevents its schools from scheduling IMG in the future. GHSA schools, beginning with the 2017 season, aren’t permitted to play a team from another high school association if that team has restrictions placed on it from its own association.

IMG is considered an independent member of the Florida High School Athletic Association and it doesn’t compete in the FHSAA playoffs.

“The wording was changed in the by-laws,” said Norcross athletic and activities director Kirk Barton, a member of the GHSA’s Executive Committee and the one who presented the wording change to the full committee. “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. … 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. … They recruit and try to get the best players they can. And they cannot recruit in state of Florida. My understanding is that anybody who goes to IMG from the state of Florida has to pay full tuition. And full tuition is $80,000 ($79,800 is the exact figure) per year.”

Barton’s school, like several others in Gwinnett, have been affected by IMG, which awards “need-based” scholarships to top athletes to cover the high tuition rates. Highly ranked defensive end Robert Beal, a Georgia commitment, left Norcross for IMG in the offseason, just before his senior season.

Archer’s Isaiah Pryor (Ohio State commitment), Mountain View’s Elijah Watson (Arizona) and Dacula’s T.K. Chimedza also have left Gwinnett high schools for IMG this offseason. Buford’s Isaac Nauta, now a freshman at Georgia, did the same prior to the 2015 high school season when he transferred to IMG.

The Bradenton, Fla., program also has brought in other highly ranked recruits in great numbers from other states like Louisiana’s Dylan Moses (No. 5 nationally on ESPN 300), Texas’ Kellen Mond (Texas A&M) and Jhamon Ausbon (LSU), Maryland’s Taron Vincent (likely the No. 1 junior defensive tackle nationally) and California’s Brian Hightower (one of the nation’s top junior receivers).

IMG also plays a college-type, 13-game schedule with road trips to Grayson, California (twice) and Louisiana on the difficult schedule. Grayson added IMG to the schedule — a controversial decision among Gwinnett’s other coaches — before current head coach Jeff Herron was hired as a replacement for Mickey Conn, who set up the intriguing matchup between what ended up as the No. 2 (Grayson) and No. 4 (IMG) teams nationally in USA Today’s rankings.

“(IMG’s) got five kids from Georgia, I know several of them, if not all of them, are from Gwinnett,” Barton said. “They can actively recruit, come up here and recruit kids. We want to protect our kids. It won’t go into affect until next year, but they won’t be able to play in the state of Georgia. Other states have already done this and we just followed suit.

“We’re trying to protect our kids and keep them here through our their high school careers. … We just explained (to the GHSA) what happened. They’re coming up here and recruiting our kids and I just don’t think we should turn around and showcase them on ESPN.”

The GHSA decision was well received by local football coaches who were hurt by IMG’s recruiting practices.

“It’s a great move by the Georgia High School Association to keep an organization out of the state of Georgia that has restrictions in their own state, that can’t play in the playoffs in their own state,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. “I think it’s a good move by the Georgia High School Association and it’s all about protecting Georgia high school football and athletics. We are here to protect the integrity of our organization. If we’re playing teams that have no restrictions (on recruiting), that doesn’t do us any good.”

Mountain View was the most recent Gwinnett school hit by IMG, which offered Watson a scholarship just days before his senior year began.

“As you can imagine, I’m one of the biggest opponents to IMG, they took one of my best players a week before the season started,” Mountain View head coach Nick Bach said. “I know a lot of coaches don’t like IMG right now and I’m at the top of the list. It’s a slippery slope and if more schools like IMG pop up, what’s going to happen to regular high schools? I’ve seen both sides of it. I’ve coached in college and I see (IMG’s) side of it. I totally get it. But overall it’s a slippery slope they’re going down.”

Other news from the GHSA’s Monday meeting included the addition of a pitch count in baseball, which requires a pitcher to be removed from the game when he reaches 110 pitches. Pitchers who throw 86 or more pitches must rest three days before their next outing, with similar guidelines for those who hit 61 pitches (two-day rest period) and 36 pitches (one day of rest). When the player hits 110 pitches, he can remain in the game until that at-bat finishes.

The GHSA also made a ruling on gender recognition, deferring judgement to its high schools. Each member school will determine an athlete’s gender, not the GHSA. The organization will classify athletes by gender based on those school decisions and other schools aren’t permitted to appeal gender cases to the GHSA.

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