NASHVILLE -- The TSSAA Board of Control made a very quick and unanimous decision Monday on an issue that won't go away any time soon.
The board voted 9-0 to keep the enrollment mulitplier at 1.8 for private schools that choose not to give need-based financial aid to athletes, allowing those schools to continue playing in Division I. But the issue of what to do with those private schools in the future isn't as easily determined.
When the TSSAA implemented the public-private split in 1997, it affected only a handful of the larger private schools in the state. However, after most of the public schools raised an outcry that even the smaller, mostly faith-based private schools had an unfair advantage, despite the fact they were not allowed to give financial aid to athletes, the TSSAA implemented the enrollment multiplier that moved most private schools up a classification to compete against larger schools.
There are 336 football-playing high schools in Tennessee, 303 of which play in Division I. But while the state's current 1.8 multiplier is the highest rate in the nation, board members made it clear that the public schools -- which make up the great majority of each board member's represented area -- were not in favor of lowering the number.
"I think most of the smaller private schools in our area, like Silverdale Baptist and Chattanooga Christian, are doing things by the rule and you feel for them when they have to play up in classification," said Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, who represents the Chattanooga area on the Board of Control. "But I represent a lot of schools and I vote how the majority tells me to vote.
"In fact, we've got a lot more public schools pushing to have a complete separation and split all private schools into Division II. I don't know, but it may be just a matter of time before that becomes a topic."
Some bordering states including Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri recently stopped using a multiplier for private schools, and the issue was a topic of discussion during last week's meeting of the national federation that oversees high school sports.
"Some of the public school folks want to talk about recruiting, but we've never even had a kid sign with an [NCAA] FBS program, so if we're recruiting, we're the worst recruiters in the country," Boyd-Buchanan football coach Grant Reynolds said. "We lose kids every year to area public schools because not everybody can afford our tuition ($8,500 annually). Most of our kids have been on our campus since elementary school, and we tell the parents that once they reach high school, we can't give financial aid.
"We also have grade-point requirements and conduct policy that could keep kids out of school. We can't just take anybody. If the majority of public schools and the state keep pushing us, eventually I could see there being a complete split, which would be too bad. It could even cause all private schools to just start their own organization.
"It's all about winning and jealousy of some programs. Hey, I lost 95-3 to Tyner as the defensive coordinator here, so I know sports is about peaks and valleys. Instead of worrying about which school is winning and why, I would just say go back and work harder the next day to get there."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...