published Monday, October 29th, 2012

Stephen Hargis: TSSAA's board hurts athletics

In an election year such as this, we don't have to look far to find a group of downtrodden peasants living under a frustrating system where the majority's voice means nothing. Look no further than the coaches, players and fans of high school football in Tennessee.

The TSSAA has more than 330 member schools, but its rules are set by the Board of Control, a nine-member panel of school administrators hailing from every area of the state that are instructed to vote on issues based on the wants of the majority of the schools they represent. But over the past four years we have learned through a series of blunders and fabrication that the majority's opinion is worthless so long as the current nine-members are in charge of making rules for anything involving prep football.

The board members have taken a permanent vacation when common sense and the best interest of student-athletes is at issue, obvious by the fact that the state's most popular and lucrative sport is being treated like a second-class citizen. From its season kicking off in stifling heat, to the absolute abomination of a playoff system, to the sub-standard site of the state championships, prep football in Tennessee deservse a change for the better.

The season kicks off in mid August before players have had enough time to adjust to even practicing in the heat and humidity, putting their lives at risk so that their season doesn't interfere with the start of basketball. Starting so early and having the regular season end before basketball practice tips off is in no way worth the risk of even one kid dying from heat stroke.

And while it's tough to steal the excitement of a day as highly-anticipated as the release of the state football playoff brackets, that's what has happened all four years since the state switched to the six-class system. The first year was a complete fiasco when the brackets had to be taken off the website and readjusted after numerous mistakes were found. There were enough hiccups and complaints from around the state that prior to last July's vote by the board on whether to continue using the current playoff format, TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said he and his staff unanimously recommended a return to the five-class system that had been used for 16 years without much complaint before making the switch. Childress made that recommendation despite knowing it would bring in about $100,000 less for the TSSAA by eliminating a classification.

Of the 34 football-playing schools in the Chattanooga area contacted, 24 (a little more than 70-percent) said they detested the six-class system and had voiced their desire to return to the old five-class format.

However, in a rarity, the board voted against the TSSAA directors recommendation and, by a 5-4 vote, decided to keep the six classification system in July, extending the ridiculousness another four years. By ignoring the majority of the schools they represent, and the recommendation of the executive director, the board's vote has left many to wonder if those five members based their vote solely on what's best for their individual school, and caused further distrust between the member schools and the state's governing body.

And while the complaints continued well after the vote and throughout the regular season as the playoffs neared, the latest embarrassment happened again on the day of the playoff matchups being announced. Nine hours after Cleveland was told it was in the Class 5A playoffs, the TSSAA had to call Blue Raiders coach Ron Crawford to explain how an error in their favor was being corrected and that they were no longer in the playoffs.

And the reason for the mix-up is even more ludicrous. One of Sullivan South's opponents, a school from North Carolina, had its record readjusted, which affected the tie-breaker system and meant Sullivan South would replace Cleveland. The fact that a school outside this state has any bearing on which schools qualify for the playoffs is inexcusable.

The greatest benefit of high school athletics is that it is an extension of the classroom, teaching kids invaluable life lessons that will carry on long after their playing days are over. The Board of Control now has the chance to prove it's never too late to admit a mistake and correct it.

Rather than continuing down the wrong road for another four years, add two items to the next agenda to discuss and vote on once again -- pushing the start of the season back to Labor Day weekend, and return the playoff system back to five classes. It's too late for this year, but make it so that the most anticipated sport has the start and the ending it deserves.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 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 nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...

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