published Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Hall of Fame games count big for TSSAA

A little more than a decade ago, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association introduced the concept of Hall of Fame basketball games, which at the time were meant to be scrimmages treated as games the week before the official start date of the season.

They also were to be fundraisers to help build a Hall of Fame building, which would be used to highlight the various facets of the TSSAA, its member schools and the overall history of the association and media members who have helped cover it.

Ten years later, no building has been built, the games are still being played and some member schools feel as though they're being "played" financially.

The games made more than $200,000 statewide during the 2001-02 season; last year the figure was $115,584. The TSSAA currently takes 75 percent of the gate receipts from the each Hall of Fame game.

The amount was scaled down from 80 percent in 2007, but the projected building has been scaled down to an exhibit permanently displayed in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame inside Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville.

So a lot of coaches are asking: Where's the money going? TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie has the answer, but that reply creates more questions.

"After doing a lot of research and discussion with staff and the Hall of Champions Committee, it was decided that the exhibit was a more practical choice for displaying the history of the TSSAA," Gillespie said. "There was initial talk of a building, but after looking at other buildings and halls of fame, it was determined that the exhibit we have now would be a better fit.

"It was initially built as a traveling exhibit which was put on display on site at football, basketball, Spring Fling and Mr. Football events. After a few years, we really lucked out by interest from the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame to host our exhibit."

When asked why the state association still takes 75 percent of the gate, Gillespie said it wasn't really the board's decision.

"The formula has definitely changed over the years," he said. "It used to be 80 percent to the Hall of Fame fund before expenses. The committee voted to let the schools pay for officials first, then give 75 percent of what's left.

"There are numerous expenses annually to update, change and upkeep the exhibit. The main portions of the exhibit are changed out at an annual basis."

Another issue has been the games themselves. Previously, the TSSAA dropped the maximum number of regular-season contests for each team from 26 to 24. When the Hall of Fame games were added, they were thought to be treated as glorified scrimmages, and coaches were given the option of counting them or not.

That choice created confusion as some coaches counted the games regardless of the outcome, while others counted the wins but not the losses.

"My stand is that it's an official game," East Hamilton girls' coach Derek Morris said. "We've counted all of them, even the ones we've lost. You don't have as much time to prepare nowadays, so we're ready to get on the court and see what we have. We get to play other teams, and it doesn't really matter how we do. We're tested early, and if we're blown out we have until the next week to be prepared."

The TSSAA ruled last season that if a game is played, it is to be counted toward the regular-season record -- win or lose.

"In regards to the games and the coaches counting them, our stance has been that the games do and should count," Gillespie said. "The Hall of Fame games are not a requirement. It is an exception that is made to the maximum number of 24 regular-season games schools are allowed. If it was not an exception to the regular-season limit, then why would they not count as regular-season games?"

Each team is allowed two Hall of Fame dates in the week before the season. On the court, most coaches feel it's a benefit because their teams can step on the floor in an actual game setting, with an actual crowd and officials. Some coaches -- mainly boys' coaches -- shy away from the games because they don't have their football players back in the mix or they don't feel they've had enough time to implement their system.

"They've taken two games away, which really doesn't bother us because we already have a hard enough time scheduling opponents," Bradley Central coach Kent Smith said, "but the fact that we have to take 75 percent of our gate and send it to the state is sometimes difficult to swallow.

"Does it take that much to keep up the exhibit?"

Some also choose not to participate in something that would benefit the state association financially -- especially when they don't see where the money is going.

Several area coaches said it's cheaper to travel for the games as opposed to hosting them, with the thought being that the process of ticket-handlers, officials, security and concessions in addition to the TSSAA's fee is a problem better left for somebody else.

"It's a pretty big chore to keep up with the paperwork and finances of everything that comes with the game," Cleveland coach Jason McCowan said. "After you send the preset percentage to the TSSAA, you have to pay everybody else with what's remaining, in addition to getting your team ready to play.

"That's just one less hassle that I have to deal with. I'd rather scrimmage, go to Georgia or play away so I don't have to deal with the finances."

Although most of them are participating, only 25 of the 78 area teams in Tennessee are hosting Hall of Fame games.

"I wish we didn't have practice until after Thanksgiving," McCowan said. "You're out of the way of football, and you would have to only worry about the Christmas holiday. Then as coaches, you don't have to worry about whether or not your kids are as interested in March as they are when the season starts."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.

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