State championship football games are common place to most high school football fans. But prior to 1966, there was no such thing in the state of Alabama. There was no playoff system, and champions were declared by state newspapers and sports writers.
But some 15 years earlier, the AHSAA had a proposal to begin a state football playoff system and to crown champions.
The idea of football playoffs was originally brought up in a special coaches meeting in Tuscaloosa in 1949. The following year at its annual meeting in March, the AHSAA appointed a five man committee to study football playoffs. Their job was to recommend whether or not playoffs would benefit the AHSAA, and if so, suggest a playoff system that could be implemented throughout the state.
In those days, the AEA Convention in Birmingham was held in March of each year. It was the big meeting of each school year for educators. The AHSAA held coaches meetings that entire week as well. Also meeting was the 24 member AHSAA Legislative Council, responsible for amendments and rule changes to high school athletics in Alabama. The Central Board of the AHSAA would meet as well. Holding the meetings during AEA week allowed coaches and administrators to be be able to attend both with just one trip to Birmingham. In 1951, Cliff Harper was the Executive Director of the AHSAA.
With members of the Central Board and Legislative Council in the Magic City for the entire week, its members were able to meet more than once and talk about issues in between meetings. Members of the Legislative Council voted their conscience after debating the issues. It took 16 votes from the 24 members (2/3) for a proposal to pass.
The chief opposition to establishing a football playoff system seemed to come from two sources. Homer Thomas, Birmingham City Schools Athletic Director, was very much against the proposal. He had come out publicly stated that he was against "any more emphasis of football." This was strange considering that the AHSAA already was running two state basketball championship tournaments, as well as championships in golf, tennis and track. The AHSAA was even having what they called at the time a state baseball meet the first week of June. Thomas had lined up some support to defeat the playoff proposal.
The second group opposing football playoffs were some of the smaller schools in the state. Feeling that there would be no more than three classifications, the smaller classifications would probably have more than 100 schools competing for a championship. The big school division would be limited to 25-30 teams competing, as classification was to be determined by enrollment. This did not sit well with the smaller schools.
Going into the Legislative Council meeting on Thursday, March 15, 1951, the Birmingham News reported that the chances of the playoff passing were considered to be "50-50." It was felt that if the playoff committee recommended a playoff proposal that the Central Board would ratify it and set up playoffs for the 1951 football season.
The committee recommended to the Central Board that it implement a football playoff, dividing the football playing schools into three classifications according to enrollment. Schools would be ranked based on a rating system based on season records and quality of opponents.
Ten points would be awarded for a victory at a school's class or above. Five points for each tie (there was no overtime play in the 1950's), one point for each win by a defeated opponent, one-half point for each tie by a defeated opponent and each win by a tied opponent and one-fourth point for a tie by a tied opponent. The quality of the opponent each team defeated would benefit that team as the opponent won more games.
The top ranked school in north Alabama and the top school in south Alabama would meet for the state championship. In those days, schools started much later than today as many high school students worked during the summer months at jobs, particularly in rural, agricultural areas. Opening football games were often held in the middle of September, with the last game often after the 20th of November. This could push the championship game nearly to Thanksgiving weekend or to the first of December, the traditional start of basketball in those days.
When the legislative council met the following day, the power of the smaller schools was evident. Even though most football coaches in the state were in favor of the proposed championship games, the amendment was defeated. Unofficial sources said that the proposal was six votes short of passing. When a motion was made to continue the study for a year by the committee and bring another proposal the following March, that too was voted down. The Legislative Council not only voted it down, they essentially killed the idea.
The AHSAA would wrestle with the idea of football playoffs for most of the next 15 years before finally approving them in 1966. When the AHSAA football playoffs were passed that year, the proposal passed with a very similar system as had been brought to the council in 1951.
Birmingham News 1951 Mythical State Football Champions