When the TSSAA Board of Control begins its summer meetings this evening, the nine-member group will devote much of its time to discussing football classifications.
The board will hold its meetings for the next two days, but tonight's main topic will be whether to eliminate a classification and go back to the five-class system that was used successfully for 15 years.
"We went to a six-class system thinking it would help eliminate regular-season travel, but that isn't working now," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "What we've found now is that a lot of our most successful teams, especially in the smaller classes, are having trouble scheduling opponents because the win/loss record is so important in determining who makes the playoffs.
"Not many people want to play the traditionally tougher teams outside their district if they don't have to, and that's forcing those teams to go outside the state to schedule games. It's also confusing once playoff time rolls around."
The current playoff format was modeled after one used by Virginia high schools for one year. But according to Childress that state eliminated the format because it became too difficult to determine who would qualify for the playoffs.
Despite the fact that one less classification would mean fewer playoff teams and in turn less money made by the TSSAA, Childress said the state's governing body is pushing for the change because it believes it's for the good of the schools.
Currently, the TSSAA uses more than 4,800 data entries per class to determine which teams make the postseason and how they're seeded.
"For 15 years we had a playoff format that worked, but now many of our coaches don't understand who gets into the playoffs or how because it's so confusing," Childress said. "We shouldn't be sitting around after the final regular-season games trying to find out how teams in Georgia or Alabama or outside our state finished because they affect our playoff bracket.
"Who makes the playoffs should be determined on the field in Tennessee."
Childress added that the board would be presented with a five-class plan, a new version of the six-class plan and a new proposal that, in his words, "we'll ask the board members to take back to their schools and discuss because we believe it may be the best option of them all."
Childress would not elaborate further on what the new plan consisted of.
This is the final year of two-year contract agreements for in-state football teams, making it an ideal time for such a change, which would go into effect beginning in the 2015 season.
Should the state go back to the five-class system, it would create larger leagues, meaning teams would have fewer nonregion dates to fill. That would be a welcome return for traditional small-school powers such as Alcoa, Boyd-Buchanan, Trousdale County, Signal Mountain and South Pittsburg, which had to travel nearly five hours away to Bell County (Ky.) last year.
"Our program is just at a point where we either have to play schools much larger than us or go outside the state to find games, and that gets real expensive real quick," South Pittsburg athletic director Vic Grider said. "You either take a chance on getting kids from the small schools hurt by playing bigger schools or you lose money on travel.
"We spent about $3,000 just on the trip to Bell County last year, and all because there are teams our size 30 minutes away that won't play us if they don't have to. If they go back to the old system, I think a lot of coaches would be all for it, because it just makes scheduling so much easier and not nearly as expensive."
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 ...