Most area high school football coaches believe there are teams getting into the Tennessee postseason that shouldn't.
A survey by the Times Free Press showed also that the coaches do not favor reducing the current size of brackets but they would like to see fewer classifications, at least in Division I. The brackets include 32 teams in Classes 3A though 6A and 24 teams each for classes 1A and 2A.
"I don't think there's a system where everybody is going to be happy, but I think a lot of coaches would like to see the number of classifications reduced," Polk County coach Derrick Davis said. "If we're 4-6 we shouldn't be going, but I think with [fewer] classifications you cut some of that out. If you're not good enough, you don't need to go."
A number of his peers agreed with him. The TSSAA expanded to six Division I classes two years ago (with two in Division II, for private schools giving financial aid), and the survey showed a preference for four or five.
When asked, "Should state playoff brackets be reduced from their current 32- and 24-team fields?" 16 of the 23 coaches who responded said no, with one not voting. The response was 15-4 affirmative, though, with four abstentions to the question, "Do you think there are teams getting into the playoffs that shouldn't?"
First-year Rhea County head coach Doug Greene said he would be OK with five Division I classifications but would prefer one fewer.
"The best solution is four classes across the board with the private schools separate," said Greene, a playoff veteran as an assistant to Benny Monroe.
Greene also suggested advancing the top four from each district/region to the playoffs, as was the TSSAA's setup from 1993 to 2008.
"The playoff brackets must be drawn and people know their path before the first kickoff of the season," he said, "or [the brackets] will always be suspicious."
Red Bank coach Tim Daniels said six classifications lead to more .500 or lower teams getting into the playoffs.
"I think in Hamilton County we're already watered down by the number of schools," Daniels said. "Now that the TSSAA has six classifications, they can't put enough teams in there with winning records. We still will have teams that are 5-5 or 4-6.
"There are two teams in this area alone that don't have a region win, and yet they're on the [TSSAA's] playoff coaches' contact list. I don't know if a team from Memphis wants to be in a bracket in East Tennessee, but to me fair is fair and a team that's 7-3 deserves to be in the playoffs over a team that's 1-4 or 1-5 in its district."
Thirteen of the responding coaches gave the current playoff system a grade of "fair," and seven ranked it poor. Two offered no opinion and only one said it was good. Asked if it was better than the previous system, there were 17 no votes, five yeses and one no opinion. They also seemed to agree that the current system is not fair to all teams.
"Last year we beat Howard to win the district and they were seeded higher than us although we beat them head to head," Tyner coach Wayne Turner said. "They were seeded ahead of us because they had one more overall win than we did. That isn't right."
Tyner, even though it was the district champ, wound up going on the road to play Polk County, another district winner, in the first round. The year before, the Rams finished 6-1 and were second in the district but had an overall record of 6-5. They wound up drawing top seed Alcoa on the road.
Turner was on the coaches' advisory committee to the TSSAA when it began looking at playoff system alterations.
"We, myself included, didn't want to totally revamp the thing," he said. "We wanted to go back to five classifications and the top four in each district or region went to the playoffs instead of this setup."
Some coaches believe convenience got swapped for suspense and that the swap is not a good thing.
"Here we are going into the last week of the season and we don't have a clue of who we're going to see," East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said. "We don't even really know the possibilities."
Gatewood also believes the playoffs are geared geographically and shouldn't be.
"It seems like it is geared more to keeping everybody closer to home and traveling in later rounds rather than trying to get the best teams to the finals," he said.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...