As is often the case when there's the potential for a public/private school debate, everything else to be discussed winds up becoming an afterthought. So when a collection of coaches, athletic directors and administrators met inside the Chattanooga Christian School gym Thursday morning to examine the new football playoff proposal, it didn't take long before the topic quickly changed to the likelihood of a complete split.
It was a fair question considering any new playoff format would be rendered moot should the TSSAA Legislative Council vote the way the majority of member schools want them to and implement a complete split down public/private lines.
A growing number of public schools have pushed for a complete split for nearly two decades, and it appears as if we're now only months from that desire to become reality. But before it does, allow me to provide a some cautionary advice: Be careful what you wish for.
While a complete split would clear out some of the tougher competition standing between the top public-school programs and the championships that are at the heart of this debate, it likely also will mean that many public schools will have to compete without their top athletes. The reason for that is simply this: The rule prohibiting private schools from giving financial aid to athletes ends the day a split is voted in.
Put simply, a split would create open season for private schools of every size and faith base to begin assembling the best players in their area, leaving lesser talent for the public schools to fight over, because let's be honest, most parents would prefer their kids receive a private school education if they could afford it.
A coaching buddy from the Knoxville area has told me repeatedly, off the record, that he and his staff are crossing their fingers that the public schools convince the TSSAA to vote in a complete split. He explained in a phone conversation just last week what a split would mean statewide.
"It would create an arms race across the state, where us smaller private schools would talk to the parents who can't afford the tuition at the bigger D-II schools, and I can promise you we'd try to drain as many of the best athletes as possible from as large a radius as we can reach."
All of which should serve as a warning to the public schools to pump the brakes on this subject and at least study all the ramifications of what a complete split would mean.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.