published Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

TSSAA board checks classification options

The TSSAA Board of Control will meet tonight to discuss possible scenarios before voting on a new reclassification plan.

The state's high school sports governing body sets classification every four years, but rather than setting everything in stone, this year's meeting could raise more questions.

The nine-member board has asked the TSSAA to present several options of plans for them to discuss, including a three-classification plan for all sports, a four-class format across the board and another plan in which football will drop from six to five classes and all other sports will remain in the current three-class system.

The board is scheduled to vote on a new plan Wednesday, but that could get pushed back to its next meeting in late July.

"Our staff worked a lot of hours on going through a lot of scenarios, but we are only going to present those plans that we feel are viable options for our state," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "We will show them the breakdown for each plan and also ask them to look at just keeping things the way they are currently. Then it will be up to the board to discuss and vote on which plan they feel is best."

The TSSAA changed its football format to the current "Plan Z," a three-class system in the regular season that expands to six classes for the playoffs, in patterning a system in Virginia. While it does group more teams into districts, which limits travel for league games, it has been widely criticized for crowning too many state champions and for being too confusing in determining playoff seedings.

Once a new classification system is set, schools will be placed in classes based on this fall's enrollment figures. The new classification goes into effect beginning in the fall of 2013.

As is usually the case during any classification meeting, football will be the sport that likely determines how the board votes. Since classification began in 1969, football, as the state's most profitable sport, has been the driving force for how many classes and championship brackets the state sets.

It is also the main reason the state's enrollment multiplier will be discussed. The multiplier is used for private schools that continue playing in the public school league, taking each individual private school's enrollment and multiplying it by 1.8 to determine what class that school plays in.

"Football drives the thing. Most people know that," said Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, who represents the Chattanooga area on the Board of Control. "There are a lot of options for us to look at and discuss, and to be honest I'm not sure that we will actually vote on it when we were supposed to on Wednesday.

"Personally, I prefer to take the information we get, come back and discuss it with the schools I represent and see what the majority of them want, then vote that way. I would rather use this as a working session and come back in July and vote then. But I don't see the multiplier going down any. It will either be increased or stay the same, but the great majority of public schools have already said they are against lowering that number."

Layne added that the board members also had requested information on a plan in which all private schools were moved to Division II but were told they did not have the power to vote on that issue. That potential move would fall under the jurisdiction of the TSSAA's Legislative Council, which voted in the original public-private split in the late 1990s. Currently, private schools that do not offer financial aid to athletes can elect to continue playing in the public school division.

However, Layne said that issue may be coming back around for discussion because of a renewed outcry from public schools.

"A school would have to put the complete split idea on the Legislative Council's agenda so that they would then have to discuss it and vote," Layne said. "I think it's just a matter of time before that happens, because from talking with other board members, there's about a 90 percent desire from public schools to make it happen.

"In our area, it's almost unanimous for a complete split. The public schools around the state are losing more and more of their better players to private schools, and they ust feel like they can't compete with them anymore. It's an issue that's going to have to be addressed soon."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

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 ...

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