By John Heeter, MACON TELEGRAPH
MACON — The Georgia Independent Schools Association has struck a tentative deal to move its football and basketball championships to Mercer University in Macon beginning in 2013, according to multiple sources involved with the negotiations.
The move received overwhelming support in a vote of GISA headmasters Friday. The GISA and Mercer are scheduled to host a press conference early next week to announce the six-year deal, according to a source who requested anonymity because a few “small details” still had to be worked out.
The agreement with the university will create a neutral site for the football championship games for the first time in league history to be played at Mercer’s field turf stadium — the facility is currently under construction — beginning with the 2013 football season.
The GISA basketball championships will move to Mercer sooner, beginning with the upcoming 2012-13 school year.
Deerfield-Windsor boys basketball coach Gordy Gruhl said on Saturday that he is all for the title games being relocated to Macon.
“Certainly it’s a better location for us,” Gruhl said. “We had been in Milledgeville since 1992, and there have been a lot of great championships and a certain amount of sentimentality there. But sometimes you have to move on, and Mercer is certainly a good facility. Maybe it’s time for a change.”
Georgia College’s Centennial Center has hosted the GISA Final Four for the past 20 years. Mercer previously hosted the second round of the GISA state basketball tournament in 2005 and 2006.
Without football having a neutral site championship game, the GISA Final Four is considered by many to be the organization’s marquee athletic event.
Golf, soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball also have championships contested at neutral sites.
Seventeen of the GISA’s member schools are in Middle Georgia, including Central Fellowship, Covenant, Mount de Sales, Stratford, Tattnall Square and Windsor in Macon and Westfield in Perry. Officials hope Macon, which has more GISA schools than any other city in the state, will support the tournament with large walk-up crowds. Attendance has waned some at the Centennial Center in recent years, and officials believe that Macon’s location on two interstate highways will make for easier travel for out-of-town visitors.
Not everyone is thrilled by the decision.
Tattnall Square head football coach Barney Hester said he likes the idea of a neutral site for the football playoffs, but he preferred the semifinals be played at Mercer right before Thanksgiving. He said he believes championship games should be played at home sites.
Herald sports writer John Millikan contributed to this report