SC football state championship games might return to Clemson. Here’s why

Watch: Dutch Fork football celebrates third straight title

Dutch Fork defeated TL Hanna 59-20 to win Class 5A football championship on Dec. 7, 2018.
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Dutch Fork defeated TL Hanna 59-20 to win Class 5A football championship on Dec. 7, 2018.

Changes could be coming to the South Carolina High School League’s annual football championship games.

Clemson University is presenting a proposal that would revamp the championships and hold them at Memorial Stadium — and possibly rotating it with Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia every other year.

Since 2012, the Class 3A, 4A and 5A championships have been held at Williams-Brice Stadium on the campus of the University of South Carolina. The Class A and 2A finals are held at Benedict College. Under the Clemson proposal, all five games would be held at the same venue.

Clemson Director of Recruiting Thad Turnipseed and former Northwestern High head coach Kyle Richardson, a senior offensive assistant with the Tigers, were the presenters of two proposals, one called “Option B” this week at the S.C. Athletic Administrators Association spring meeting in Charleston. The proposal is modeled after what Auburn and Alabama universities have done (and Turnipseed was a part of) for state championships in Alabama where it its rotated each year between Bryant-Denny Stadium and Jordan-Hare Stadium.

It was presented before the SCHSL executive board on Monday and to each individual classification meetings Tuesday afternoon. Classifications did gauge interest level of their athletic directors if they wanted to pursue it going forward. Most of the athletic directors The State spoke to on Tuesday liked the proposals.

SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton said league’s executive committee would have final vote in the mater and that could happen as early as the April executive committee meeting. The SCHSL picks its championship sites on a year-by-year basis.

“This isn’t a contest between us and university of South Carolina. Everything we could do, South Carolina could do. It is just a different mindset to doing things,” Turnipseed said during presentation to Class 4A athletic directors.

“They presented it as a concept where the two major universities work together and make it more of an event and experience rather than a game,” Singleton said Tuesday. “They had some interesting ideas about marketing, so there will be a lot of things to consider.”

Some of the proposal’s ideas include how the championship weekend itself can be a better experience for the players and their families, and bring in more revenue for everyone. Last year’s cost of playing the championship games at USC was 95,899. Turnipseed said. the cost of the games the last time Clemson hosted was $76,000 and would try to lower that even various sponsorship opportunities and by reducing some of the other expenses.

The proposals also want to make it more of an even for the teams involved. One idea is to enhance the celebration for the winning teams by moving them to family rooms at USC or Clemson and each winning team member would get up to four family members to come back for them to celebrate and take pictures.

Post-game press conferences would also be held back there. Now, teams just go back to locker rooms after each game ends and reporters interview players on the field. Teams also would be able to use the indoor practice facilities to warm up before their games. Each championship participant would get a suite to use for the entire weekend.

Turnipseed said the biggest change would bring in a third party, a professional management company that would work with both universities and the SCHSL. The event management group would handle all revenue and costs, game money, corporate sponsorships, and all event management responsibilities.

The proposal also calls for chamber of commerce or local committee to be involved that will help provide with team meals and host and feed the band and cheerleaders.

Under Option B proposal, each participating school is guaranteed $7,500 plus $2 from every advanced ticket sold from each school. It also will get a profit share, which will be a percentage of event’s total profit.

Some coaches have voiced their displeasure with expenses occurred for schools playing the game at USC. According to Dutch Fork records, the school had to pay $2,382 back to the league despite winning its third straight Class 5A football title.

One drawback for moving it to Clemson will be long travel to the Upstate for some teams. In 2011, Bluffton and Goose Creek had to make the long trips to Memorial Stadium for their games. But under the proposals, each team will receive a hotel room for the night before their game and a $1,000 food stipend for each team.

Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The State and Island Packet. He has covered high school sports in South Carolina for 16 years and is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.