published Monday, October 29th, 2012

Gossett blog: TSSAA, use common sense

Hey, TSSAA, isn't there some way to program common sense into your computer that determines football playoff brackets?

There are 16 categories used to determine playoff standings in each of Tennessee's six Division I postseason classifications.

On one hand, you want to take the human element out of the process to avoid the appearance of cronyism and/or favoritism. On the other, however, there is an obvious need for human intervention. Let's please find a way to reset the parameters.

McMinn County won the District 5-AAA championship Friday by beating Bradley Central. And Baylor improved to 7-3 with a win over Battle Ground Academy. So who are McMinn and Baylor playing Friday in the first round of the playoffs? Yep, Bradley is on the road again against McMinn County, and Baylor is at home against BGA.

And if you can, get the computer to explain how an 8-2 Tyner team is going on the road to play against 7-3 Sweetwater, or, with apologies to Polk County and Derrick Davis, how Polk (7-3) gets a No. 2 seed in its quadrant over 9-1 Christian Academy of Knoxville?

• There was at least one bracket mistake and it dearly cost Cleveland, which was in the Class 5A field and then jerked Saturday evening after a half-dozen hours or so of celebrating.

Bernard Childress, the TSSAA's head honcho, called Cleveland coach Ron Crawford to inform him of the mistake and to apologize. Still, it should never happen. There had to be at least three and maybe four people checking and rechecking those brackets before they were released.

"I shared a couple of things with Mr. Childress," Crawford said Saturday night. "We knew going into our game last night that we had to win."

Cleveland was upset by Rhea County, which is coached by a Benny Monroe disciple and a former Cleveland guy (Doug Greene), but still the coaches stuck around until 2:30 or so Saturday morning checking and double-checking all the scenarios.

"I didn't check the brackets this morning," Crawford said Saturday. "And then my assistant coaches started calling me."

They got so far as swapping films with Columbia and starting to make practice plans when Crawford got the call.

Crawford had two things on his mind Saturday night. With all due respect to Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan and his Mustangs, Crawford was mystified how a team that finished 5-5 as his did but finished below him in the district standings and lost to his Blue Raiders got in the playoffs when his team did not.

Crawford, like many of his peers, has a problem with the Chattanooga area's Board of Control member, Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne.

"The TSSAA recommended to the board to go back to five classes," the coach said. "Our area director did not want to. He voted for six classes because that's what best for Sequatchie County High School."

• Can a computer comprehend the meaning of the word "ludicrous"?

Obviously no better than the TSSAA's Board of Control, which voted 5-4 to keep a six-classification playoff system against the advice of the folks who run the state association on a day-to-day basis and over the voices of an overwhelming number of coaches who suggested returning to a five-classification system.

It's almost as bad as having Class 1A and 2A teams playing in the same district and then splitting off into playoff divisions. The big argument there is the smaller 1A schools playing larger 2A schools with wins and losses counting the same. It's the same for Class 3A and 4A schools and Class 5A and 6A schools.

• Isn't it about time, too, that we forget about geography, at least in the playoffs, and do the right things?

There are two 3-7 teams, seven 4-6 teams and 34 5-5 teams in the Tennessee postseason. To avoid such occurrences is one reason coaches sought a return to five classifications.

Now to be fair, the TSSAA may have solved the problem for the future, at least in Classes 1A and 2A with the latest classification settings, which go into effect next fall.

If the change doesn't pan out, though, then maybe it's time to scale back the number of teams moving into the postseason, either by eliminating a classification or by trimming the fields. It's bad enough that 5-5 teams advance -- I mean, last time I checked, 5.5 was average, right? -- so why not make it a flat cut-and-dried. If there's a 4-6 team in the playoffs ahead of a 5-5 team, then something's wrong. And if that 4-6 team like White County finishes first or second in its district, so be it. Leave it out. It shouldn't happen, but when it does it simply magnifies another playoff problem -- that some football districts are too small.

Why not rule that teams with less than five wins don't advance and put byes in the bracket?

But wait. That might actually keep the Board of Control from salting away more money for the TSSAA's rainy day fund.

• Geography II: Scrap the regions/quadrants. That's a move that is needed and wanted in the regular season but definitely and especially in the playoffs. You realize, don't you, that the TSSAA even posts a balloon-tacked map on its website showing geographic locations for each team in each quadrant of each classification?

Let's determine the top teams regardless of what part of the state they're in, give some legitimacy to the brackets and provide a true seeding: No. 1 vs. No. 32, No. 2 vs. No. 31, etc.; or at least East No. 1 vs. East No. 16 and West No. 1 vs. West No. 16.

• Coaches wanted the TSSAA to go back to districts in which all teams were of the same postseason classification. Didn't happen, huh?

But wait. That might keep the Board of Control from salting away more money for the TSSAA's rainy day fund.

OK, yes, I'm repeating myself. There are, though, so many points to hammer home from a lack of common sense to money-dictating decisions rather than equity to off-the-record accusations of self-interest over what is best for the whole. It will be interesting to see if it shows up in the new district realignments.

Oh, yeah, I did mention the board and money issues, didn't I? It's possibly the single-most mentioned bone of contention among coaches, outdistancing the need to readjust district alignments.

If you need to be reminded, the state association takes 50 percent of the receipts from every playoff gate — before expenses such as lights, field maintenance and travel — and all it does in return is pay officials and their per diem and provide a cheap plaque, I think, to the winner. Which brings us to another point: If you're going to have local teams playing each other in the first round, why not use local officials?

Maybe somebody could add some of the above to the common sense needed in the computer's bracket program.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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