NEW CLASSES CONSIDERED
This is how the Chattanooga area regions groupings would look under the TSSAA's newly proposed classification format. The top four teams from each region would earn playoff berths. There are no Chattanooga-area teams in the highest-enrollment 6A class and each of those regions are based on current enrollment figures. The smallest of the 32 large schools is Wilson Central with an enrollment of 1,714 students, and the Chattanooga-area's largest school is Bradley Central currently with 1,664 students.
Class 1A (Region 3): Copper Basin, Fayetteville, Grace Academy, Huntland, Lookout Valley, Moore Co., Sale Creek, South Pittsburg, Whitwell.
Class 2A (Region 3): Bledsoe Co., Boyd-Buchanan, Marion Co., Meigs Co., Polk Co., Silverdale Baptist, Tellico Plains, Tyner.
Class 3A (Region 3): Brainerd, CCS, East Ridge, Grundy Co., Howard, McMinn Central, Notre Dame, Red Bank, Sequatchie Co., Signal Mountain.
Class 4A (Region 3): Central, Cumberland Co., East Hamilton, Hixson, Sequoyah, Stone Memorial, White Co.
Class 5A (Region 4): Bradley Central, Cleveland, McMinn Co., Ooltewah, Rhea Co., Soddy-Daisy, Walker Valley.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Even though the debate over a potential public/private school complete split was never mentioned openly during the two days of the TSSAA Board of Control meetings, the subject was discussed during the closed-door session, according to one board member.
Whether a complete split is voted in is not a Board of Control decision. Such a drastic change has to be made by the TSSAA's other nine-member panel, the Legislative Council, which is in charge of changing bylaws and rules and will meet again in December.
But as TSSAA directors presented the board with three options for determining football classification and playoffs on Tuesday night, the question of the split remained in the backs of the minds of board members.
"I brought it up and we did talk about it," said Sequatchie County principal Tommy Layne, who represents the Chattanooga area on the board. "You can't help but wonder if we're putting all this time and thought into which plan is best, but then if the complete split gets voted in we'll have to scrap it all and start over again probably. If that does happen, and all the private schools get moved to Division II, we'll have to come back and decide how many classes to have in both the public and private school divisions, what kind of playoff format works best and just all kinds of new questions will come up.
"My opinion is I don't think the split will happen before this classification period ends in the next two years. That's just such a huge move and there are a lot of questions about it still. But I know the majority of schools seem to want it, so maybe they'll push for it to go ahead and happen."
This is the final year of two-year contract agreements for in-state football teams, meaning if the split is going to be voted in, it likely needs to happen during the council's December meeting before teams begin making out new two-year schedule contracts.
The board opted to table the three classification options they were given to allow each member to explain and discuss the best option with the schools they represent, and will meet again in August to vote.
Other than the options of keeping the current six-class system or going back to the old five-class format, TSSAA directors also unveiled a third option, one that seemingly incorporates the best points of the other two. In that third proposed format, the state's 32 highest-enrollment schools would be classified in 6A, with each of those teams guaranteed automatic playoff berths, and the remaining 273 schools divided into five classes, according to enrollment numbers.
In the other five classes, teams would be placed in eight regions with the top four teams from each region advancing to the postseason -- similar to the format that was in place prior to 2009. The new proposal would clear up the playoff scenario much more than the system currently used.
"This totally takes care of that," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "Overall records won't factor in anymore and how an out-of-state opponent finished its season won't have any bearing on our state's playoff bracket anymore either, which would make it much simpler.
"We've been working on this for months. It was an idea that came about from our staff brainstorming to find a better solution."
According to current enrollment numbers the Chattanooga would have none of the 32 highest-enrollment schools and having more schools in fewer classes would leave all teams with fewer non-region dates to fill, meaning scheduling should be easier across the board.
Should the third option become the choice, there would also be 16 more teams qualify for the playoffs -- 8 more in both 1A and 2A which currently only takes 24 teams in those brackets with the top eight receiving first-round byes. Under the new proposal, there would be no more byes in any class.
"There are some pros and cons to it, but since it's brand new we have to be able to look it over and let the schools we represent tell us if they want it," Layne said. "I'm a little concerned because there are several questions that need to be answered under the new plan. For one, there's a lot more travel involved for league games. Our small school league would have some long trips, like Copper Basin to Moore County and I also wonder who those big 32 teams will play once smaller schools don't have to schedule them. There are parts of it that are good, but coaches and administrators need to really think about it and give me some feedback before I vote."
The biggest decision coming from Tuesday's meeting was the board voting to approve a rules change regarding two-a-day football practices. Under the new rule, which is designed with player's safety during the heat of summer in mind, practice time in pads may not exceed three hours in a single practice. If there are multiple practices in pads in a single day, the total practice time in pads may not exceed five hours, with practices separated by at least three hours of rest in a cool environment. Also, no student/athlete can participate in multiple practices in pads on consecutive days.
Although very few area programs continue to hold two-a-day practices, the new rule will likely cut down on the few who had continued the tradition. The board also defined what is considered a practice in pads as being if helmets and shoulder pads are worn at any time during the practice, or if helmets and pants with hip, thigh and knee pads are worn.
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 ...