Although it had been dominant in smaller classifications for more than 20 years, Brentwood Academy's decision to play up three classifications, then winning yet another football championship against the state's largest programs, was simply too much to ignore.
The Nashville-area power had drawn too much attention to itself by beating schools with more than twice its enrollment, and with football driving many of the decisions by the TSSAA's rules makers, the Eagles' 5A title in 1995 was all the proof the public schools needed that they no longer could compete for state titles.
With nine state championships in three classifications in a 20-year span, BA had established itself as the most powerful program in TSSAA football history. It also will be remembered as the program most responsible for the creation of Division II.
Carlton Flatt built the Eagles program as the only head coach from its first varsity season in 1971 until his retirement in 2006. Flatt became the state's winningest football coach with 355 career victories and 10 state titles.
But with success came rumblings regarding questionable recruiting tactics.
"It surely did bother me for my name and BA to be used as such a negative example for so long," recently said Flatt, who at age 69 teaches a math class at Belmont University and coaches BA's middle school football team. "I felt like we did so many positive things, but all we were being talked about for was as something negative. I don't think anybody likes to be looked at as the villain."
After retiring from BA, Flatt later coached at Eagleville High, a tiny public school near Murfreesboro, for two years and said he was amazed to learn the head coach there also had to teach five classes each day. Before that, Flatt never had worked at a public high school, having begun his career as a college assistant at Tennessee Tech before assisting at Battle Ground Academy and then starting the BA program.
"I understand it better now than at the time it was going on," Flatt said. "I didn't realize how much of an advantage the private schools actually do have. The biggest difference is the size of the coaching staffs and their responsibilities within the school. When I retired at BA I had 15 assistants on my staff and I didn't teach any classes -- I just coached football. That was a tremendous advantage. Quite frankly, the public schools can't match that. They can't compete with that.
"Looking back, the separation was the right thing for everybody. I understand why those people did what they did. I might have done the same thing in their shoes."
One year after the split, with animosity still lingering between the two sides, Brentwood Academy was turned in by a rival public school for violating the TSSAA's recruiting laws. The TSSAA placed the Eagles on probation for four years, banned them from the playoffs for two years and fined the school $3,000.
That led BA to file a lawsuit against the TSSAA, and the case circulated through the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals three times and was even heard by the U.S. Supreme Court twice, marking the first time in history that the nation's highest court found it necessary to rule on matters involving high school football. The case lasted more than a decade and BA's legal fees exceeded $2 million before the TSSAA finally was awarded a unanimous victory.
Following the split, Brentwood Academy continued having success on the football field. But it was a Division II state runner-up eight times before finally winning another championship in 2006, Flatt's final season as coach.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has 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. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...