published Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Prep football playoffs still have issues

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    Ted Gatewood of East Hamilton High School watches his team play.
    Photo by Alex Washburn.
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TSSAA playoff breakdown

Here are the area playoff standings going into the final week of the regular season (teams are listed in the order of their seeding):

Class 1A

Quad 1: Greenback, Coalfield, Copper Basin, Cloudland, Lookout Valley, Midway

Quad 2: Moore County, Gordonsville, South Pittsburg, Monterey, Eagleville, Columbia Academy

Class 2A

Quad 1: Boyd-Buchanan, Silverdale Baptist, Knoxville Grace, Oneida, Hampton, Rockwood

Quad 2: Friendship Christian, Marion County, Cascade, Watertown, Trousdale County, Jackson County

Class 3A

Quad 2: Christian Academy of Knoxville, Alcoa, Polk County, Kingston, Sweetwater, McMinn Central, Loudon, Tyner

Quad 3: Fairview, East Hickman, Cheatham County, Christ Presbyterian Academy, Westmoreland, Smith County, York, Grundy County

Class 4A

Quad 2: DeKalb County, Giles County, East Hamilton, Signal Mountain, Notre Dame, Hixson, Red Bank, Marshall County

Class 5A

Quad 2: Knoxville Catholic, Lenoir City, Ooltewah, Columbia, Cleveland, Tullahoma, Walker Valley, White County

Class 6A

Quad 1: Science Hill, Maryville, Dobyns-Bennett, Sevier County, McMinn County, Oak Ridge, Bearden, Jefferson County

Quad 2: Siegel, Cane Ridge, Oakland, Bradley Central, Riverdale, Blackman, Franklin County, Cookeville

East Hamilton successfully defended its District 6-AA football championship with last week's win at Red Bank and can cap a 9-1 regular season and unbeaten district slate with another win at Howard on Friday. The Hurricanes have already set a school record for wins and moved up to No. 3 in the state rankings this week.

However, there was no respect for the Hurricanes when the latest Class 4A playoff scenarios were released Tuesday. This is the final week of the regular season and the TSSAA will begin posting playoff matchups Saturday at 11 a.m. EDT on its website.

East Hamilton will host a first-round game, most likely in a rematch against 6-AA second-place Hixson, and could wind up not playing another home game for the rest of its playoff run. The Hurricanes' eight-team playoff quad likely will include four district champions, including Signal Mountain, top-ranked Giles County and fourth-ranked DeKalb County.

"We need to really look at the playoff format," Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood said. "I know the new system was made to cut down on travel, but the end result should be to have the best teams play in the end and settle the championship. Our quad looks like it's going to be pretty loaded.

"But for now, I'm looking at it as you have to beat the best teams at some point, so why not get them early? And as far as having to travel, it's been my experience that sometimes kids play better on the road because they aren't in their comfort zone and they have to be dialed in. We're just going to go play and see what happens."

The postseason format has been plagued by issues since it was changed four years ago. The first year, several teams were given wrong information on first-round opponents, and while the problems have gotten progressively smaller, most area coaches have made it clear they were in favor of switching back to the former format with one less classification.

However, the TSSAA Board of Control voted 5-4 in favor of continuing the six-class system and current playoff format for another four years in June.

"We were in favor of going back to the five-class system and the old playoff brackets," said Earl Nall, the TSSAA's technology director who puts together the playoff brackets. "But apparently the majority of coaches around the state told their Board of Control representatives to keep the six-class system.

"We put the brackets together based solely on geography. The teams that make the playoffs are just dots on the map for us, and we group them in quads by where each is located. We can't have rules to foresee every problem, but we have something different that's come up every year we've had this system. It's why we recommended to go back to five classes."

Signal Mountain already has the District 7-AA title in hand and has been as hot as any local team with five straight wins. But the Eagles are looking at a potential first-round rematch against district runner-up Notre Dame. From there, either team would set out on the road for the rest of their playoff lives.

In Class 6A, five of the eight teams making up Quad 1 could be district champions, which would mean one team would win its league and still have to travel in the first round.

South Pittsburg reached the 1A state final last year despite having to play three straight playoff weeks on the road. The PIrates, who have repeated their District 6-A title, face their third straight state-ranked opponent from a larger classification this Friday when they host 2A's second-ranked Knoxville Grace. Win or lose in that game, despite being district champions, the Pirates likely will not receive a first-round bye and will be a third seed in Quad 2, meaning they will travel every week they remain alive past the first round.

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 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 ...

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