published Friday, November 2nd, 2012

TSSAA precedent stirs mixed feelings

Tyner High School football coach Wayne  Turner calls a play for the scout team during a defensive drill
Tyner High School football coach Wayne Turner calls a play for the scout team during a defensive drill
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Though there are extenuating circumstances, the TSSAA is setting a precedent this week by footing expenses for a team to travel in the first week of the football playoffs.

"I think it's going to cause some problems," Tyner coach Wayne Turner said. "Bus rides aren't cheap anymore. I don't think this is something [the TSSAA] ought to start. You have to treat everybody fairly. We're all members of the same organization."

The TSSAA will pay expenses for Sullivan South to travel to Columbia for a Class 5A game because of a housekeeping error that had Cleveland in and Sullivan South out of the playoffs. When the TSSAA found the error, association members called both schools. The Kingsport school declined initially, however, saying it should be in the upper East Tennessee quadrant and not have to make the 317-mile trip to Columbia.

There are those who believe the state is opening a can of worms by picking up the tab.

"I don't worry about that at all, because it's the right thing to do," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "We have to be fair to people, and Sullivan South's football team should not have to pay for our mistake. It was because of a mistake in our playoff system that this happened, so we need to make it right for them."

While TSSAA board of control member Tommy Layne from Sequatchie County High School declined to comment, several area coaches are familiar with questionable TSSAA playoff decisions.

Tyner is on the road for the fourth straight playoff season. In 2009, the Rams were a No. 6 seed and wound up playing a No. 1 seed in the first round rather than a No. 3 seed.

"It was the only 1-6 matchup in any of the brackets, and they said they did it to keep teams from the same district from playing in the first round," Turner said. "A couple of years ago we won the district, beat Howard to do it and wound up seeded behind Howard. We were district champs and wound up playing another district champ (Polk County) in the first round, and it was on the road."

Al Rogers is taking his Silverdale Baptist team on the road to play at Hampton, a 420-mile round trip.

"I heard this was happening but I didn't believe it," Rogers said of Sullivan South's free ride. "Simply put, this is not fair."

"Unbelievable," added Boyd-Buchanan coach Grant Reynolds, a playoff veteran. "What they have done in my opinion is set a precedent for other potential problems or someone to say, 'It's not in our budget to go to wherever. Can the TSSAA pay for our travel?' I think they know they messed up by putting them in the wrong quad and not fixing the problem on the front end. Crazy."

E.K. Slaughter of Red Bank disagreed to some extent.

"I believe it is the least the TSSAA should do," he said. "However, I don't think Sullivan South should abuse it. I don't know if they always take two student buses to games or not. Maybe they deserve the difference in the cost of where they're going and where they might have gone had they been in Quadrant 1."

It's been asked what happens if Sullivan South wins and then has to travel to Tullahoma or White County.

"How much is going to be paid? What if they get to quarters? That's about $9,000," Slaughter said. "I hope the money isn't more to be taken away from [TSSAA] members."

Cleveland's Ron Crawford said he thought the association was trying to make amends for a mistake that it probably compounded by trying to impact the fewest amount of people.

"I think they'll be more diligent before releasing any more brackets," he said. "The only thing I wonder is why they didn't just redraw [the bracket]."

McMinn County is home for a Class 6A first-round against Bradley Central, the same team it played last week.

"The whole playoff process and result is flawed," McMinn coach Bo Cagle said. "I think it's great that they're paying for Sullivan South's team, band, cheerleaders and fans to travel over 300 miles for their playoff game. I just hope next year they accidentally leave us out of the playoffs."

Then there is the question of whether Sullivan South also will get the usual share of the gate receipts.

"I hope they're not getting their 25 percent," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "I'd think this opens the door for school districts with small budgets to petition the TSSAA for the same treatment if their teams make it to the playoffs. I know if I was traveling to Memphis I would certainly take TSSAA paying travel expenses and us forfeiting our 25 percent of the gate."

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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