NASHVILLE -- After a month of delays and debate, the TSSAA Board of Control needed less than 30 minutes to vote on two key issues to determine the state's prep football classification and playoff format.
By a 5-4 vote, the board decided Monday to keep the current three-classification system in all sports. In football, the three-class regular season expands to six classes for the playoffs.
That is the same format that has been used the previous three years. It now will run through the 2016-17 school year, when the board meets to vote on classification once again.
The other option being considered Monday was to return to the five-classification system that had been used for 16 years before the change in 2009.
"Despite what some coaches from our area may have said, my mind was not made on this issue all along," said Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, who represents the Chattanooga area on the board and voted to keep the current format. "I was one of the ones who suggested we delay the original vote so I could talk with our local coaches and see what they wanted. The great majority of them responded that they wanted to keep things the way they are now because it cuts down on travel expenses.
"It was one of the toughest decisions I've had to make as a member of the board, but when you look at our area, it prevents teams like Copper Basin from having to make a 200-mile round trip to Moore County for a district game and teams like McMinn County from having to go all the way to Lincoln County for league games. We weren't going to make everybody happy, no matter what the outcome of the vote, but I think this was the best thing for our area."
The board voted unanimously to keep the enrollment multiplier at 1.8 for private schools that opt not to give need-based financial aid to athletes and continue playing in Division I. No school will be forced to move up more than one classification.
In a rarity, the board actually voted against the recommendation of the TSSAA directors on the decision to have five or six classes. When board member Bryan True asked, prior to the vote, what the TSSAA's recommendation was, executive director Bernard Childress reiterated that it was the same as it had been all along.
"Looking at everything, and understanding that taking away a classification would cost the organization at least $100,000 in playoff revenue, we still would recommend the five-classification system," Childress said.
"I know some people would think it sounds crazy that we recommended the proposal that would cost the organization that much money, but after discussing it we felt that would have made more sense for the majority of our state," Childress said after the meeting. "It shouldn't be all about money. It's more about the kids and the schools and what's the best plan for them.
"What I don't like about the current system is that we have so many questions right before the playoffs. We have teams that have to schedule out-of-state opponents because they have trouble filling a schedule, and because overall record affects playoff seedings, we're having to find out how those out-of-state teams finished so we can figure out our own playoff brackets.
"The five-class system was proven to work for so many years, and it was just easier to understand for everyone involved. Plus it helped teams fill out their schedules because you had larger regions of teams grouped together. But the board votes how they see fit, and that's not always the way we as directors recommend."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 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 seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...